The production of Dreamgirls took place at Short North Stage. The audience was sitting in a spacious hall in front of the stage, which was lit with soft blue and violet lights. The rhythmic sounds of drums opened the show and immediately drew everybody’s attention. As the music evolved and actors appeared on the stage, singing and wearing glamorous vintage costumes, I became immersed in the atmosphere of the late 60’s and early 70’s with its bustling and jazzy energy.
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The world of the play was the entertainment scene of those times. The production told the story of three African American singers − Deena, Lorrell, and Effie – who created a music group and started to make their way to the top in the highly competitive world of show business. They ultimately achieved success, but it did not come without many sacrifices on their part. The interpersonal struggles the characters experienced as the story unfolded were probably the main conflicts.
The play was not only about the ups and downs of one’s way in the music business, but also about friendship and love. As Edward Carignan, the director of the production, notes, “Dreamgirls penetrates the disappointments and the triumphs endured by show business performance as well as the lasting bonds they forge with each other” (“Program Notes”). It is clear that both sides of the narration are equally meaningful, yet in my opinion, the development of personal relationships among the characters was especially touching.
Since the production of Dreamgirls by Short North Stage was a musical, sound played a pivotal role in creating the perception of the play’s world. According to Ferris, in any theatrical event, music is nearly as important as the visual spectacle, but in performances such as opera and musicals, it takes on a key significance. In Dreamgirls, the music played during the scenes, so the sound perfectly matched the visual content.
Every song and sound accompaniment in the play was charged with a particular energy that created an emotional pattern for the production. Alterations in sound were used to hint at the change of scenes and also cue the effects (Dorai and Venkatesh 142). The selection of the style and genre of the music by Corbin White, a sound designer, was meaningful as well. The energetic and rhythmic sounds − primarily jazz and blues − were in accord with general perceptions of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Thus the sound design both reinforced and added meaning to the dramatic events that took place on the stage.
It seems evident that the playwright’s main idea was to show the reality behind the scenes of the music industry and demonstrate how the pursuit of success may interfere with relationships or change one’s character. Overall, the narration techniques, as well as the design elements, managed to convey the meaning of the play very effectively. The story was told in a harmonic, aesthetic, and tasteful way.
The story of Dreamgirls was worth telling because most people can relate to the characters’ problems and difficulties they faced. In one way or another, everybody tries to be successful and has to make choices, which may lead to conflicts between his or her professional and personal life. Dreamgirls could push viewers to think about the things they should cherish and value more.
Dorai, Chitra, and Svetha Venkatesh. Media Computing Computational Media Aesthetics. Springer, 2012.
Ferris, Lesley. The Art of the Now: Introduction the Theatre and Performance. The Ohio State University, 2014.
Program Notes. Dreamgirls by Tom Eyen. Tams-Witmark Music Library. Short North Stage. 2017.