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Calling For Backup: Jimmy (Harrison White) wants the Dreams (from left, Ramona Keller, Angela Robinson and Frenchie Davis) to give him some vocal support in 'Dreamgirls.'

Like a Dreamgirl

Frenchie Davis doesn't need Fox to be an American Idol

By Rob Pratt

FEW OCCASIONS have come around in my lifetime when I have regretted not watching television. There was the time in fifth grade when it seemed that all of my peers had seen the Happy Days episode where Fonzie jumped over a shark while water-skiing. After leaving breathless with awe from last weekend's opening performance of Dreamgirls, now running at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, I'm compelled to add to my list of missed-TV regrets Frenchie Davis' national debut a year ago on Fox Television's American Idol 2.

On the show, Davis launched a sensation with a performance of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" from the 1981 Broadway smash Dreamgirls. Lucky for me, Davis reprises the number in the fantastic American Musical Theater of San Jose production of said show, and I now know what I missed; the opening-night performance of her signature tune brought a sold-out house to its feet at the end of the first act. AMTSJ's Dreamgirls, however, has much, much more to recommend it than Davis.

With music by Henry Krieger and lyrics by Tom Eyen, Dreamgirls tells the story of the Dreams, a trio of young R&B singers from Chicago that travels to New York's Apollo Theater to find fame. Davis plays Effie Melody White, who is eventually eased out of the group by a manipulative manager. Davis' formidable voice is nicely complemented by Angela Robinson and Ramona Keller, who play the other two Dreams, but it is only truly matched in power and sophistication by David Jennings (as Curtis Taylor Jr., manager of the Dreams).

The entire production, though, hardly misses a note, from cast to scenic and costume design. Director Mark Hoebee gets maximum effort from all the players, which is more than enough to make the production an unqualified hit. Lighting designer Tom Sturge makes the most of the show's minimal sets and props by using lush, colored washes projected onto a simple cyclorama backdrop. The effect is stunning at a number of points in the show.

While musical director Marc Falcone has put together a fine group of South Bay orchestra-pit regulars, synthesized strings besmirch an otherwise uniformly funky, moving and great-sounding score. Falcone had little choice in the matter, as Tams-Witmark Music Library, the agency that licenses the script and score for Dreamgirls, only provides an orchestration with synthesized strings. Still, it's a shame that such a great production couldn't manage to find a way to rework the orchestration to incorporate a small string section.

Dreamgirls, an American Musical Theater of San Jose presentation, plays Thursday-Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2 and 8pm and Sunday at 1 and 6:30pm (except Jan. 25) and Wednesday at 2 and 8pm through Jan. 25 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Blvd., San Jose. Tickets are $44.50-$75.50. (888.455.7469; www.amtsj.org)

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From the January 15-21, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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