Dreamgirls is an iconically American musical, steeped deep in cultural references and politics. It is set during the 1960s; a time in America’s history that was scored by turmoil, violence, suppression yet also change, celebration and freedom. If anything truly reflects the mood and personality of the 60s it’s the popular music.
Writers Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen have captured the energy and youthful rebelliousness in their music for Dreamgirls. The stage show has been performed continuously since it premiered in 1981 and was turned into a film in 2006 featuring a stellar cast.
It’s a challenging show for any theatre company to contemplate, and has added hurdles in Australia, as Rod Herbert, director of the current Rockdale Musical Society production explained.
“Dreamgirls, I think, has been one of the hardest shows I’ve ever had to cast. For a start we don’t have the African American performers that you need to put on the show.”
However, the multicultural talent pool of young actors in Sydney helped Herbert over that hurdle.
It was also an imperative for the director that his cast understood and could convey the political undertones of the narrative. He encouraged the cast to explore the history and helped them by posting relevant articles and images on their social media channels. Interestingly – or sadly – many of the issues are still relevant today.
It’s Herbert’s first time directing at Rockdale Town Hall and although it has its limitations, he feels pleased with stage design and effects. There is a massive 7ft platform at the rear of the stage where the band will play. Back wall projections will help establish scenes. When the three piece girl group at the centre of the story are doing concert scenes, they’ll “break the fourth wall” and interact with the band and audience.
Dreamgirls is rarely staged in Australia, so this is a great opportunity to see it.
Until Sep 17. Rockdale Town Hall, cnr of Princess Hwy & Bryant St, Rockdale. $34-$40+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.rockdalemusicalsociety.com
By Rita Bratovich