The musical "Dreamgirls" makes a splash with some stellar vocal performances, memorable characterizations and bold visuals at Weathervane Playhouse. But the show, which just finished its second weekend, has some problems that weaken its overall success.

When it comes to diva power, Delisa Medlea of Cleveland, in just her second theatrical production, is a spectacular vocalist as lead Dreamette singer Effie Melody White, blowing the roof off the house time after time. Raven Platts, a musical theater student at Columbia College in Chicago, also provides awesome R&B vocals as Lorrell Robinson.

The show, directed by Richard Morris Jr. with music direction by Ed Ridley, follows the journey of a Motown-era black girl group from Chicago that starts out as the Dreamettes and rises to superstardom. The story, by Tom Eyen, evokes an amalgamation of aspiring R&B acts, from the Supremes to James Brown. The musical premiered on Broadway in 1981, won six Tony Awards and inspired the 2006 film starring Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy and Danny Glover.

For the live show at Weathervane, costume designer Jasen Smith has outdone himself with 300 outfits, many of which are gowns or dresses with rhinestones or other dazzling embellishments that reflect the glamor of this group's ascent in the '60s and '70s. Choreography by Nehemiah Spencer is lively, and bold cutout signs designed by Morris — who is also scenic designer and technical director — herald the star act that the Dreams become.

There are a lot of moving parts in the opening scene, when the Dreamettes arrive late to compete in Amateur Night at the Apollo in Harlem. The exposition in these early moments suffers because it's difficult to discern Tymir Hammock's lines as Marty, Jimmy Early's manager. Hammock, a newcomer to the stage, rushes his lines, delivers them in an oddly gruff voice and doesn't enunciate well. The actor also struggles later with a short vocal solo.

Effie, Lorrell and Deena start out as the innocent Dreamettes and fall under the control of manipulative Curtis Taylor Jr., a car salesman who becomes their manager. Love relationships ensue that end up becoming stormy, and jealousies and fights erupt.

In perhaps the show's biggest surprise, it's hard to believe that Martin Rawls of Mansfield, who plays Curtis with an imposingly suave, persuasive presence, is just 18. This actor's look and performance is much more mature.

Here's the biggest stumbling block in this production: The big moment where the renamed Dreams make their performance debut after Effie is relegated to backup singer is a letdown. Lauren Sturdivant's vocals as new lead singer Deena were so lacking Sunday, this seminal scene wasn't believable, even though Deena is supposed to have a lighter, more commercial sound than powerhouse Effie. 

On the bright side, Jonathan Merechant has personality to spare as wild man Jimmy (James Thunder) Early. He's at his funniest when Jimmy rebels against Curtis and launches into a crazily improvised rap during a performance.

Kudos go to Kodee Williams as songwriter C.C. — Effie's brother — for his amazingly sweet vocals in "Family." Rawls, Williams, Merechant and Oscar Waters are also memorable in the ultra-cool "Steppin' to the Bad Side."

 

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.