"There are four Dreamgirls," said Denna Jones just before they introduced Effie White back into the group and sung the finale and title song "Dreamgirls". From left to right:, Brook Brewer as Michelle Morris, Shoni Bennett as Effie White, Chantel Maryland as Denna Jones and Skyler Labat as Lorrell Robinson. Photo by Troy Tieuel
Gemaine Edwards commanded the crowd into laughter as he reinvented the character James Early, a ballet belting singer who becomes confused about his identity. Below Edwards is the Dreamgirls band lead by musical director Pooh Mayo (not pictured). Photo by Troy Tieuel
On Sunday December 2, 2012 the Pullum Community Arts Center presented the musical “Dreamgirls”, a play featuring an all-student cast at the Washington High Shool Dream Theater. Directed by Brandon Rainey, the play followed the life of three Motown-esque singers that make it big in show business.
“In the past we did ‘Flashing Lights’,” said Mr. Rainey, “an original show that I wrote, and then we did “Lion King”. What made this production special were the girls. Particularly, the Dreamgirls are girls that I have taught for the last four years. So I had them as 9th graders and it is something that I have always wanted to do with them and now they are seniors, about to end their senior year, and are amazingly talented. I just wanted to give them a chance to really shine and really highlight them, because this journey of the last four years has been one of tremendous growth for these young ladies, and for the other cast members as well.”
Based closely on the widely successful play and movie of the same title, “Dreamgirls” showcased the talents of several area students including Chanel Maryland, who played the lead character Denna Jones, Shoni Bennett, who played the break out star, and crowd favorite, Effie White and Alex Chumley, who played the manipulative studio executive Cutis Taylor Jr.
“It helped me own my craft more, coming straight from high school, and being a college freshmen it was very difficult, but doing the production with Mr. Pullum and Mr. Rainey actually got me very motivated to continue my craft and own it and make it something that I really want to do.”, said Chumley.
The production value of this play and the potential for each character to shine was taken advantage of fully by these student actors and actresses. Among a few of the many stand out performances was that of Gemain Edwards, whose portrayal of James Early brought the crowd to their feet with laughter and enjoyment. Just as Jennifer Hudson’s performance stunned and left crowds awe struck, so did the singing of Shoni Bennett, who’s rendition of the classic ballads “I Am Changing” and “One Night Only” both received standing ovations. Chanel Maryland proved to be a triple threat singing, dancing and acting as she revived the lead role of Denna Jones belting out classic hits “Listen” and “Hard to say Goodbye”.
When asked to describe her experience reprising Effie White, Miss. Bennett said, “It was very hard and very tedious. This was the biggest roll I have ever had, so we really had to work hard, but it was the best process ever.”
“I didn’t think I could sing that well, but I kept on singing and practicing and getting better.”, said Miss. Maryland about playing Denna Jones. She went on to describe what was different with this play then the other plays that she had been a part of, “I have a lead role, other plays it was just like singing in the background, maybe have one line here or there, this is like, I’m in the majority of the show, and I’m a significant character. So it was a blessing and a really great opportunity.”
If you are interested in being involved in the next production or want free acting or singing lessons contact the Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center on 43rd and Degnan Streets in the Lemiert Park District or check out their website at: www.pullumcenter.org.