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  • David Zak

Delicious DREAMGIRLS explodes at Paramount

DREAMGIRLS requires one star to be successful, and Paramount thankfully has Naima Alahkam in the leading role of Effie. From her first entrance to the final notes of her incredible series of solos, Alahkam delivers a performance that will shred your heart. Many would say that And I’m Telling You is the most important song in DREAMGIRLS. Alahkam starts out with a quiet freshness that makes you understand why Curtis lingers. But after he leaves, she burns down the house with excellent raging vocals.

She is supported by an excellent ensemble whose fine singing and dancing skills enable the complex story to fly by. The most magnetic performances are delivered by Ben Toomer as Jimmy and Lorenzo Rush, Jr., as Curtis.

From its Broadway debut in 1981, DREAMGIRLS, with music by Henry Krieger and lyrics and book by Tom Eyen, and originally directed by Michael Bennett, has been celebrated on stage and screen. The dense plot follows a trio of female singers that aspires to break into the Motown scene in the 60’s. In addition to the four main singers, there are love interests for each, and villains and good guys in the musical world that get featured roles and songs. The first act is very energetic as it builds towards its famous Act 1 finale. The second act sags a bit as all the many threads of the plot are stitched back into one. But the themes of loyalty and chosen family resonate strongly decades of its debut.

Christopher D. Betts’ direction is explosive. He understands when to fill the three-story Paramount stage with dance, chaos, and detail, using a turntable and two rolling staircases to excellent effect. Just as importantly, he is not afraid to isolate the moments of stillness and sorrow.

Betts' pulls out all the stops from his top-notch creative team. Jeffrey D. Kmiec, scenic designer; Samantha C. Jones, costume designer; José Santiago, lighting designer; Adam Rosenthal, sound designer; Mike Tutaj, projection designer; Reuben Echoles, wig, hair and makeup designer and associate casting director; Jesse Gaffney, properties designer. Jessica Forella is the stage manager, keeping all the bells and whistles running smoothly.

Generally DREAMGIRLS is not thought of as a dance musical, but Garner and Betts use every transition for maximum movement. Christie Chiles Twillie, music director and conductor, does a nice job syncing the 15 member orchestra with the two dozen members of the cast. The individual mics are a bit uneven at times, with some actors perfectly clear, and others a bit muddled.

Paramount Theatre is located at 23 E. Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora. For tickets and information, visit

If you have not been to Paramount, the vintage theater will thrill you, and the neighborhood is bursting with great restaurants, bars, and sweet shops. The parking is free or cheap! So give yourself the extra time to enjoy the trip, both onstage and off.

For more theater reviews, visit theatreinchicago,com.

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