Dreamgirls really is all show business. Most of its numbers are performed on a stage within the story, and when they're not, they're usually backstage. So we don't need much scenery to make the Muny stage look like a stage.
The Muny's director, Robert Clater, worked on Dreamgirls with Michael Bennett, its original director, and he and set designer Michael Anania have followed Bennett's lead. Unlike most Muny shows, Dreamgirls has no trompe l'oeil painted sets. Even the Muny's moving wings are simply painted black. Six light towers move about the stage, shaping the space with Seth Jackson's light design. The occasional table or chair appears when needed. The LED screen plays a significant role in these designs; this show makes the best use yet of this new addition to the Muny's resources.
If you want color and spectacle, look to the costumes, credited to John Furrow as “costume technician,” which I assume means they're rented from a previous production. They're fine, both celebrating and lightly mocking the styles of the 1960s and '70s, the times of the rise and disintegration of the Supremes-like girl group the Dreams in Tom Eyen's book and lyrics. Henry Krieger's music – not a great score, but serviceable – and Lesia Kaye's inventive choreography also celebrate and mock the period.
Thirty years ago, Jennifer Holliday won a Tony for her performance as Effie White in the original Broadway production and a Grammy for her recording of Effie's desperate cry when she discovers she's been replaced in the Dreams, “And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going.” Now she's reprising the role at The Muny. You can see why she got the Tony, though she can't match the youth of her partners. And I was a little disappointed with “And I Am Telling You.” The emotion is devastating, but the music comes and goes. I was much more taken with her second-act, career-reviving number, “I Am Changing.”
Demetria McKinney and Jenelle Lynn Randall, lovely and talented, grow and change as the other Dreams, essay writer with Karla Mosley as Effie's replacement. Christopher Jackson is deviously smooth as silk as the Dreams' creator, and Milton Craig is rough-hewn as R&B star James Thunder Early, with Ken Page, rock-solid, as his manager. Tommar Wilson charms as Effie's brother, a composer. Everyone in the cast is sharp and tight. And musical director Darren Ledbetter drives the show forward with the most enthusiastic conducting I've seen at the Muny.
An episodic piece, Dreamgirls alternates powerful numbers and filler. The power dominates at The Muny, and it's a rare chance to see Jennifer Holliday in the role that made her a star.