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'Dreamgirls' at Eastlight Theatre

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When Anthony Jumaane Hendricks got the opportunity to direct one of his all-time favorite musicals at Eastlight Theatre, he jumped at the opportunity.

"Dreamgirls" was a show he'd appeared in several times in the past and he'd directed a concert version of the show once before. Now he was going to get to direct it on stage.

Well, circumstances being as they sometimes are in community theatre, Hendricks found himself doing both: directing the show while also appearing in it, as the character C.C. White. "It certainly wasn't planned, but I had to step in when we lost someone. It's all good, though; I'm having a good time and we're going to have a good show," Hendricks said after a recent rehearsal.

"Dreamgirls" opens a seven-show run Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Byron Moore Auditorium at East Peoria High School. The show continues at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and on April 24, 25, 26 and 27 and at 2 p.m. on April 21.

Tickets are $19 and can be purchased online at www.eastlighttheatre.com or by calling 699-7469.

"Dreamgirls" tells the story of the time when rhythm and blues blended with other styles to create a new American sound in the 1960s and 70s. But it goes beyond the music to show the behind-the-scenes life of the music industry, centering on a Supremes-type trio of singers known as The Dreams.

Hendricks said he first heard the music when he was a child and has loved it since. He knew, therefore, the kind of singers he wanted to put on the stage as his Dreams "and I am very pleased with the talent I have here. We have some very talented people surrounding the whole show."

(Photo by Paul Gordon) Jamika Russell. shown here during a recent rehearsal, portrays Effie White in the Eastlight Theatre production of "Dreamgirrls."His cast includes Jamika Russell of Peoria in the role of Effie White, a member of the Dreams who becomes a sensation on her own. Jennifer Cirillo portrays Deena Jones, Gabrielle Lott-Rogers plays Lorrell Robinson and Dominique Allison is Michelle Morris. Also, Justin Graham portrays Curtis Taylor Jr., Cleo Dailey III is James "Thunder" Early, and Harreld Webster Jr. is Marty Madison.

Hendricks was asked to direct "Dreamgirls" at Eastlight after he directed the concert version at The Apollo Theatre. "I was confident I could direct the full show so I was very happy to get the opportunity," he said.

One of the reasons Hendricks enjoys the show is because of its message, one he hopes the audience will understand, as well. "The message of this show is to keep believing in yourself. Don't give up, no matter how difficult things might get. Just keep working it and it will happen," he said.

There is very little dialogue in "Dreamgirls," which Hendricks said he enjoys but also apprehensive in a long run for performers who aren't used to singing as much as is required in this musical. "I've been in the show a few times — in fact, to my knowledge I've been in every performance of 'Dreamgirls' that has been done in Peoria — and some directors will have some of the lyrics spoken. But we're not doing that, though we do need to worry about conserving voices so we're ready for opening night," he said.

At the same time, he noted, he isn't really that worried. "With this cast? They'll be ready, I'm confident of that," he said.

The set for the show is simple, designed and executed by Steve Cordle, the technical and artistic director of Eastlight. It consists of three large, rotating panels of LED lights that can be changed together of separately to convey a mood on stage. "It's a simple, really cool set. I love it," Hendricks said.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).