B’way Producer Takes Dreamgirls to S.Africa

DreamgirlsAs a top Broadway producer prepares to premier award-winning Dreamgirls in South Africa this week, the production’s all-local cast worked out a few final kinks in the dress rehearsal.

“My dear Effie, where are your shoes?” top Broadway director and choreographer Robert Longbottom, asked, exasperated, of the lead actress during Tuesday’s dress rehearsal.

“They didn’t finish dressing me,” replied Lindiwe Bungane, who plays the full-figured Motown-era singer.

“Well, we can’t continue without your shoes,” Longbottom retorted, directing the cast to restart from the top of the scene.

But those involved say they’re confident the kinks will be solved and the show will go on to wow audiences when it opens Friday in Johannesburg, despite its inexperienced cast.

Longbottom says he hopes South African audiences will identify with the story of a trio of female black singers fighting oppression in 1960s America to reach musical success.

“What I’m most proud of is that this company has taken ownership of this piece as much as they had in America,” Longbottom said. “For different reasons: repression, needing to be heard and finding your voice in a society that doesn’t allow it be done easily.”

To that end, Bungane said, the producers did not allow the actors to view the DVD of the U.S. production because the producers wanted their version to be authentic.

The actors brought to the show a uniquely South African flair, with some South African pronunciations coming out in particular words. Lindiwe said mastering the American accent was one of the most difficult parts of the job, since viewers all know how an American accent sounds.

But some viewers may be surprised to learn that Bungane and many others in the 26-member cast have never performed in a musical before.

She plays Effie, the Dreamgirls’ lead singer, who is sidelined from the group because the group’s manager says her look won’t appeal to the pop market. In the 2006 film version of the musical, the role was played by Beyonce.

“It’s a dream come true,” said the actress, who sang with a band before joining the cast. “For me, it’s my first time doing theater so I’ve had to learn how to act and dance and sing at the same time. It’s been mind-blowing.”

The musical has won numerous accolades since opening on Broadway in 1981. The film version netted a best supporting actress Academy Award for Jennifer Hudson. Her next role will bring her to South Africa: she will play Nelson Mandela’s ex-wife in upcoming film “Winnie.”

For the South African production, one of the most expensive live shows ever produced in the country, Longbottom and Broadway producer John Breglio pulled out all the stops. A Broadway-caliber production meant shipping in more than 700 costumes and wigs and bringing in the Americans who created the original Broadway production, Breglio told the Associated Press Wednesday.

“To find a cast that could perform this music and do it with the American style and accents was a great challenge, but this cast is unbelievably good,” Breglio said.

Dreamgirls will run through April in Johannesburg and open in June in Cape Town.

Source: The Associated Press.