A 'Dreamgirls' come true

A 'Dreamgirls' come true

URBANA — Nathaniel Banks always wanted to produce the musical "Dreamgirls," believing it would be a good draw for the local community.

He was right.

Already, there are waiting lists for each of the three "Dreamgirls" shows in early August at Krannert Center.

The production is somewhat unique, in that it's a result of a collaboration between the Banks Bridgewater Lewis Fine Arts Academy and Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

"Our hope is that we will be able to continue to do theatrical presentations," Banks said. "The purpose of this one is to give the community a chance to work with professionals so they could have a standard to look to when they do other programs."

Another purpose of the co-production: to show off talent in the community that might not have a chance to shine elsewhere.

Earlier, a three-year Making Communities Visible grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation enabled Krannert Center to work with the BBL Fine Arts Academy as well as other local groups, leading to this summer's "Dreamgirls."

Banks said the next BBL-Krannert collaborative project hasn't been determined yet.

"We'll do some evaluations at the end of this to see if that's what we want to continue to do," Banks said. "We'll certainly do something involved with theater."

For now, the 24-member "Dreamgirls" cast is enjoying the opportunity of getting to work with professionals, among them director Latrelle Bright, an adjunct faculty member in the University of Illinois Department of Theatre and a previous program coordinator for the UI's Inner Voices Social Issues Theatre program.

The "Dreamgirls" choreographer is Endalyn Taylor, a UI Department of Dance faculty member who has extensive experience on Broadway and has been a principal dancer at the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

Samantha Jones, a visiting assistant professor, designed the costumes. Most of the money for the show is going toward costumes and wigs, Bright said.

Illinois Theatre scenic designer J. Michael Griggs, who created the set for the Donald Margulies play "Long Lost" at Krannert and worked at the American Repertory Theater and Harvard, is the scenic coordinator.

Alec LaBau, assistant audio director at Krannert, is in charge of the sound design. And David Krupla, a second-year master's of fine arts degree candidate, designed the lighting, which will be snazzy and supply different looks, Bright said.

The 13-piece band, directed by Banks and featuring BBL Fine Arts Academy students as well as seasoned musicians, will provide the accompaniment.

Banks, Ron Bridgewater and Robert Lewis started the BBL Fine Arts Academy in 2005 as Mo' Betta Music to offer instruction to talented youths in Champaign-Urbana who didn't have the money for instruments or private instruction.

They later changed the name of their program to reflect their larger vision of working with youths in all areas of the performing and visual arts.

Toward that goal, "Dreamgirls," to be presented in Krannert's intimate Studio Theatre, will be a full production, with all the elements fully realized, Bright said.

And "Dreamgirls" — it opened in 1981 on Broadway — is a complex musical to mount, she said.

"I've been listening to the recording for decades and I don't think I realized how challenging the musical was until we broke it down into parts," Bright said.

She noted most of the dialogue is spoken.

"It's really a lot of singing," Bright said. "There are a couple of scenes where I just made it dialogue."

Another challenge, one of the first in the process, was whether to cast younger or older performers. For most of the roles, Bright went with younger singers.

One is Tafadzwa Diener, a Parkland College theater student who graduated in 2014 from Urbana High School.

She has the lead role of Effie, a star-making role for Jennifer Holliday in the Broadway musical and Jennifer Hudson in the 2006 movie "Dreamgirls," based loosely on the Supremes.

Diener is not looking toward either Jennifer for inspiration. She's instead trying to create an Effie of her own.

"I'm not a typical Effie but I'm really having a blast with it," she said. "It's a challenging role. It's such an iconic role, with big shoes to fill."

Said Bright: "We're trying to make new shoes to fill."

Save the dates

What:The Banks Bridgewater Lewis Fine Arts Academy in collaboration with Krannert Center for the Performing Arts presents "Dreamgirls," directed by Latrelle Bright.

When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 5-6 and 4 p.m. Aug. 7.

Where: Studio Theatre, Krannert Center.

Tickets: $20 adults; $15 non-UI students; $10 UI students and those high school age and younger.

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