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VIA: New York Times

There is a moment at the beginning of this latest revival of “Dreamgirls” when reality and fantasy mesh, when the actresses performing onstage at the Apollo Theater in Harlem are as excited and anxious about their chance at stardom as the fictional ’60s-era singers they portray.

“You’re talking about it, but you’re actually there,” said Moya Angela, who plays Effie White, the role that made her movie and Broadway predecessors, Jennifer Hudson and Jennifer Holliday, stars. Speaking in a husky whisper after a recent performance, she added: “This is definitely a big break for me. Most women in this role really take off after this.”

The decision to open the national tour of “Dreamgirls” at the Apollo, where this 1981 Broadway musical begins and ends, would seem to be a natural. The producer John Breglio recalled that the initial reaction was quite different, however: “Everybody thought I was crazy.”

“But I really wanted this to be an uptown experience,” he said.

The Apollo, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, has a relatively narrow stage and a tiny backstage. There is barely room to stand with your arms outspread in some parts of the wings, precious little space to lay out costumes for the performers’ lightning-quick changes, and no pit for the 15-piece orchestra.

This presented serious logistical problems for a musical that has a cast of 26, uses more than 580 outfits (designed by William Ivey Long) and 184 wigs (created by Paul Huntley).

“We had a traffic jam,” an actor called out from the stage at a recent rehearsal, explaining a delay to the director, Robert Longbottom. The performers exiting the stage ran into other actors who were coming out, and bumped into the show’s only major prop, a thin, clear plastic table.

“Are the Dreams O.K.?” Mr. Longbottom asked. Everyone was fine. The orchestra is in a separate room on the second floor. Sam Davis conducts with an eye on a computer screen that shows what’s happening onstage. “Ba ba ba,” short and staccato, he explained to the musicians, “not ba-ah, ba, ba.” At the same time a couple of people interested in renting the room for a future recital were taking a tour. Downstairs two tiny black-and-white monitors affixed to the front of the balcony allow the actors to see the conductor’s cues.

Beneath the stage the green room — normally a waiting room for performers — has been converted into a miniature version of Filene’s basement, with racks of gowns in powdery satin pastels and shimmering amethyst, turquoise and vermillion sequins; suits lined up shoulder to shoulder in black gabardine, red velvet, and silver and gold lame; and enough shoes to satisfy Imelda Marcos.

Rows and rows of black wigs are stationed upright on faceless mannequin heads. “Deena has 17 wigs,” Mr. Long, a five-time Tony winner, said during a break.

Deena Jones, the Dreamgirl who ends up supplanting Effie as the lead singer, is played by Syesha Mercado, a second runner-up on “American Idol” last year. “The moment that we got here we could feel all the energy of the performers who came before us,” Ms. Mercado said of the Apollo, adding that the initial days were a bit overwhelming. Deena, who wears a lifetime’s worth of clothes during the two-and-a-half-hour show, sometimes has no more than 15 seconds to go from one outfit to the next. “I was so scared, the first day I didn’t make my changes,” she said.

For Adrienne Warren, the third Dreamgirl, being at the Apollo is like stepping into her own past and future. “I remember watching ‘Amateur Night’ when I was a little girl,” she said, and imagined herself as a singing star. “I bring a little of who I am, Adrienne, into the role.”

Opening at the Apollo is far from the only unusual element of this new production. Mr. Breglio, the executor of the estate of Michael Bennett (who originally directed and choreographed “Dreamgirls”), decided to revive the musical after the successful 2006 film. He said he realized it would be better to do a new production rather than try to restage Bennett’s original.

Read more here.

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