The cast of Dreamgirls. Photo: Faithworks


Book and Lyrics by Tom Eyen
Music by Henry Krieger
Choreography by Alexander Betts
Directed by Rush Trowell

A review by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents are copyright © 2023, by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

Dreamgirls is a Tony-nominated Broadway legend of a musical. Premiering on Broadway in 1981, it launched the careers of several major actor-singers, including Jennifer Holliday, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Loretta Devine, and Vondie Curtis-Hall, and racked up eleven Tony Award nominations, winning seven. It lost to Nine for Best Musical, which is still considered a major mistake in Tony’s history.

Unofficially, but very transparently, based on the story of Diana Ross and the Supremes, the story revolves around the rise of the girl group The Dreamettes, as they are first noticed at a talent competition and become backup singers for hit singer Jimmy “Thunder” Early, and evolve into their own sensation later as the Dreamgirls, after being forced to switch leading singers to present a more commercial leading lady style.

In the beginning, the group is led by the full-figured Effie White, with a singing voice to challenge the greatest in history. As the story evolves, the group’s manager Curtis goes from having an affair with Effie to replacing her with the more traditionally attractive Deana Jones to get the group further into the mainstream, while not only sidelining Effie but pushing original star Jimmy into the background.

The show has some interesting bits of trivia, the most fascinating being the evolution of the Effie character. As originally written, the character disappeared at the end of the first act, never to be heard from again. But original actress Jennifer Holliday, who won a well-deserved Tony for her performance, threatened to leave the production if they didn’t resolve her character in Act II, which resulted in a very satisfying character arc for the role.

Faith Works Studios’ latest production of the show is almost flawless. The cast is uniformly perfect, every singer belting out with some of the best voices I have ever heard in community theater. Sometimes the dialogue scenes don’t quite measure up acting-wise, but the vocal performance in this almost sung-through show more than makeup for that.

I can’t possibly take up the space to commend every great performance in this piece, because every performer nailed it. I will give out special shout-outs to Stephanie Collins as Effie; her performance of the show’s signature song “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” sent chills down my spine. I have been involved in local theater for over twenty-five years and I have never heard a voice like hers. This is star quality of the highest degree! 

Li’Andrea Goatley’s Deena is also in full voice and brings her reluctant star character a quiet dignity that can’t be dismissed. Johnathan Jackson’s doomed Jimmy is a fun character that you can follow from his character’s highs to ultimate lows, and Gregory Knox Jr.’s Curtis pulls off that most difficult of roles, a sympathetic villain.

The set design, music direction, choreography, costumes, lighting, and sound design are all top-notch. My one complaint performance-wise is that the music did sometimes drown out the vocals and dialogue, making the story a bit challenging to follow. But really, the songs are what this is about so that is a minor reservation.

I did have an issue with their printed program. Not something I would normally complain about, but it was very lacking in information. It only listed the actor’s bios and headshots and did not even list who played what role, let alone it didn’t list the director, choreographer, or any of the tech crew. Since the printed program is the one thing the audience gets to take home as a souvenir, this seemed like a big oversight.

But I can’t deny this was an engaging, infectious night of great music and performances. And since I believe they sold out each performance, I think they were well rewarded!

Featuring Isaiah Archie, Alexander Betts, Stephanie Collins, Ariana Flemons, Kristen Findley, LiAndrea Goately, Brandi Hill, Johnathan Johnson, Gregory Knox Jr., Jon Anthony Mosby, Alysea Rucker, Christofer Scott, Saraya Thompson, Jarrell White, & Tamia Yates.   


May 19 – 28, 2023

July 6 & 7 @ 7:30 PM
July 8 @ 2:00 PM
July 9 @ 4:00 PM

General Admission Tickets are $35

Faithworks Studios
Russell Theatre at New Directions
17th & Madison
Louisville, KY 40203

Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 14 years. In June 2019 he launched a new company with Jeremy Guiterrez, Theatre Reprise. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.