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There is really no better place to see Dream Girls than on Chicago’s south side. Bronzeville is a community that's proud of its legacy as a cultural hub for black Chicago, and the pride was palpable among the audience. While “Broadway to Bronzeville” is intended to bring new audiences to the cultural center, it's also a platform to introduce young black talent to the city's larger theater circuit. Among the most notable in this show is China Stewart, who plays Effie White. Stewart, 19, is from the southeast side and has little experience on the professional stage. But her raw vulnerability brings Effie to life. Not to mention her enormous, robust voice.
Director John Ruffin culled his ensemble from all over Chicago, including Columbia College, Kenwood Academy, and M.A.D.D. Rhythms. Although the show is rich with talent, the pacing often drags. The sound system is also more appropriate for a rock show than a Broadway musical. My ears buzzed for nearly an hour after the show ended.
Dream Girls is an important production for the cultural center, which is struggling to stay afloat. Tillman and Ruffin hope the show's success will breath new life into the center. So far, prospects are encouraging. Tillman and Ruffin recently announced they will remount Dream Girls this May. And later this year they'll team up again for The Five Heartbeats, a musical loosely based on the Temptations.
At the end of the show, an announcer individually called every performer to the stage to take a bow. The process is tedious, but the sentiment is nice. Dream Girls is a celebration of Bronzeville and black Chicago talent. Who knows, maybe in 2040 there will be a show about a few singers who met in a production on Chicago's south side and went on to make it big. It can happen.
Dream Girls at the Harold Washington Cultural Center (4701 S. King Dr.). Fri-Sat 8 PM. $20-$60. Closing April 1.