Chris Coleman's Blog

“Fake Your Way To The Top”

Posted by Chris Coleman | 22 September 2014

L-R: Mary Patton as Deena Jones, Nattalyee Randall as Effie Melody White and Lexi Rhoades as Lorrell Robinson.


One of the biggest surprises about working on Dreamgirls has been getting to know the actual lyrics. I've been listening to the original cast album since it first came out in 1982, but it wasn't until I sat down and read the actual lyrics on the page that I begin to understand how beautifully crafted the piece is. For example, in Jimmy (James Thunder) Early's first number, "Fake Your Way to the Top," he sings :

You can fake your way to the top, but it's always real, so real - when you're comin' down.

Hearing it sung, it just seemed like a loud, fun, crowd-pleasing number. But when you read the lyrics you realize that they are tied directly into the character's emotional dilemma at that point in the story. That's true over and over again: while the surface is all pizazz and showmanship, the story of the song is woven into the character's struggle at that moment.


G.W. "Skip" Mercier

The show never stops, and so Skip Mercier (G.W. Mercier, Scenic Designer) has created a revolving stage that at times resembles a record spinning on a record player. If Fiddler on the Roof (which Skip also designed), was about earth, grit, authenticity — Dreamgirls is about surface, pizazz, performance — and the textures of the piece are created with 700 individually painted black panels, that reflect light at different levels of intensity.

Last week, Skip was in San Francisco loading in his most recent project:  Bill Irwin and David Shiner's Old Hats at A.C.T., for which he designed sets, costumes and PUPPETS.


Larry Owens

Sunday was our Sitzprobe:  the first time the actors sing the show through with the band. After a month rehearsing in studio theater (because we can get the full footprint of the set into the room), we moved onto the slab; the area just behind the mainstage theater. Larry Owens, who plays Tiny Joe Dixon, is pictured above.


Mary Patton and Lexi Rhoades

During 'sitz' actors work with standing mics near the band and let it rip. It's always exciting and exhausting because it usually happens at the tail end of a long week. Mary Patton (who plays Deena, above left) and Lexi Rhoades (Lorelle, above right) chill out between numbers.


The cast onstage during the first tech rehearsal.

This past Tuesday was the first day onstage, which always marks one of the most exciting parts of the process. We knew this one was going to go slow, as there are so many scene shifts, and programming the turntable moves is complicated: you have to determine the rate of speed; how quickly that speed ramps up and down; and how many degrees it is turning.  


Robert Wierzel

Robert Wierzel is our lighting designer. He was last with us for Sunset Boulevard. Robert flew in from New York, where he just opened Tom Stoppard's play, Indian Ink, at the Roundabout Theatre. He was also represented on Broadway last season as the LD for Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill with Audra McDonald.


Rodney Hicks

It's always fun to see how the clothes transform the actor.  Loved this shot of Rodney Hicks (who plays Curtis) in his act two get up. You'll remember Rodney from The Mountaintop last season, or Oklahoma!  He also begins his first semester teaching acting at Portland State University this fall.


Jameson Tabor, Joy Martin and Kira Batcheller film The Sweethearts

There is one short scene in the play, where a white singing group co-opts the new hit by Jimmy Early, "Cadillac Car." We opted to film the scene, as if the other characters are watching it on television. Kent Zimmerman, our choreographer (back with us after Fiddler, last season), is pictured in silhouette with his arms raised.


Rick Lewis

Rick Lewis, our musical director, conducts the show using his iPad from the orchestra pit with the acoustic instruments. The brass and percussion are in the green room behind the stage and are looped in through a video monitor.


Mary Patton

Mary Patton, who plays Deena, is giving some major glamour in the second act Vegas number. In wigs, Mary bears a striking resemblance to Diana Ross.  


Sydney Roberts

Sydney Roberts, our costume designer, last worked with us on Man and Superman, The Devils and The Seagull (was that 2001 or 2002?).  We did the math today and figured out that our first show together was Love, Valour, Compassion at Actor's Express in 1997.  Oy.


Calvin Scott Roberts and Antoinette Comer

Calvin Scott Roberts, who plays C.C., comes to us from Dallas, Texas. Antoinette Comer (Michelle) found out on her second day of rehearsal that she just booked her first Broadway gig; she will join the company of Mama Mia right after we close.


Tyrone Roberson

Tyrone Roberson, who you last saw in Oklahoma! returns to play Marty (Jimmy's and then later Effie's agent).


Nattalyee Randall

Nattalyee Randall, who was named 'Broadway's Next Big Star' on is our Effie.  Nat is originally from Springfield, Illinois.


David Jennings

And David Jennings, who just finished the Broadway production of After Midnight, plays Jimmy (James Thunder) Early.

Dreamgirls opens Sept. 26 and runs through Nov. 2
Preview performances begin Sept. 20

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