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The Ahmanson's current production of the Broadway hit, Dreamgirls, is so spectacularly spectacular that the theater fairly vibrates with the big-voiced, high intensity production. Even with T-shirts in the lobby and enough tech splendor to engage the most on-the-fence audience member, somehow the story doesn't quite sell its message of fame's heartaches for the three women of the title.

For starters, the three main cast members--Syesha Mercado as Deena Jones; Moya Angela as Effie Melody White; and Adrienne Warren as Lorrell Robinson are all musically talented, though Angela has the stop-the-show, oh-my-gosh-how-does-she-do-it voice. Actually, around me on opening night were several bettors predicting that she would have to have a vocal break before she ruined her voice altogether. Notwithstanding, the ladies were energetic and made some fine music.

Additionally, the male leads were also on top of things as they held their own against the persistent thrum of the production. Chaz Lamar Shepherd played the smarmy mogul-in-training whose bed hopping provided some sudsy moments, and Trevon Davis played Effie's brother C.C., whose talent was taken advantage of early on. Particularly notable for his acrobatic dancing was Chester Gregory as James "Thunder" Early, a James Brown knockoff, whose extraordinary body dynamics earned thunderous applause at show's end.

The story is all too familiar: three girl singers converge on the music scene to greater and greater acclaim while their interpersonal relationships become mired in angst. Their agent has more than their best interests at heart, and by play's end, they are finding a way to reconcile and survive their stardom.

The Broadway originators--choreographer Michael Bennett, costume designer William Ivey Long, light designer Ken Billington, and scenic designer Robin Wagner created a dazzling spectacle that has the built-in longevity to sustain its production for many performances to come. Having said that, Robert Longbottom's direction bypasses the inherent drama in the storyline and counts on the rest of the glitz to carry the show. And it does, yet it doesn't. If spectacle is your objective, then he has it nailed down. If, however, characterizations need to go beyond the stereotype, then there's something lacking.

The music is certainly to be recommended, with Sam Davis serving as music director. Numbers like "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" by Effie and "Steppin' to the Bad Side" by the Company are worth the purchase of the soundtrack.

Certainly the most entertaining moments in the play are provided by Billington's dramatic light shows. From theaters to train stations, the stage-filled lights ramp up the production values.

Dreamgirls is a big show with big appeal, but it could be more. The inherent pathos of some of the interpersonal relationships comes off as plot devices rather than drama in this sung-through production. It's good but not great.



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.