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CMSD All City Musical ‘Dream Girls’ is a Broadway worthy performance

The Broadway show “Dreamgirls” began as a vehicle for singer Nell Carter with playwright Tom Evan and conductor Henry Krieger partnering in 1975 to write a musical version of Even’s “The Dirtiest Show in Town”. Carter appeared in the same named musical which inspired Even and Krieger to further craft a musical about Black back-up singers. Originally it was titled “One Night Only” until it was changed to “Project 9” with singers Sheryl Lee Ralph and Loretta Devine added as Carter’s groupmates. With Carter leaving to appear in the soap opera “Ryan’s Hope in 1978 the project was put on hold.

In 1978 interest was renewed with Ralph and Devine returning and Jennifer Holliday hired as Carter’s replacement but who soon left due to creative differences that included the death of the character Effie at the end of the first act. Even, Bennett and Krieger continued to rework the story and Holliday returned to the show now titled “Dreamgirls” but left once more due to the reduction of Effie’s stage time. The writers once again went back to the drawing board and the show had its debut with Holliday in the lead role in the Imperial Theatre on December 20, 1981, closing on August 11, 1985 after 1,521 performances.

It is 1962 and the Motown Sound is sweeping the country garnering the attention of Black and White audiences alike. A female singing trio “The Dreamettes” travel all the way from Chicago to enter the famous Amateur Night Talent Contest at the famous Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. The group consists of three friends. Effie White (Lailah Irby) who sings lead with Deena Jones (Aanaiyah Kemp) and Lorrell Robinson (Jade Gantt) singing backup harmony.

The girls are late for the contest but manage to convince the stage manager (Isaiah Young) to be added at the end of the contest. They perform “Move (You’re Steppin’ on My Heart)” that was written by Effie’s brother, C.C. White (Heath Thompson). The contest is rigged with Curtis Taylor, Jr. (DeSean Hunter) bribing the stage manager to have the singer Jimmy “Thunder” Early (Jaylyn Bridges) winning.

After talking with Jimmy’s manager, Marty Madison (Adam Thompson), Curtis convinces the trio to be Jimmy Early’s back-up singers and for C.C. to write some songs for the up and coming crooner. He composes the number “Cadillac Car” with Jimmy and the trio touring with the tune. As the song climbs the pop charts, it is also recorded by a white group “Dave and the Sweethearts”. Angered by this, Curtis, C.C. and Jimmy’s producer, Wayne (Zion Benson) start bribing DJs to insure more airtime for their version. The record becomes a hit for the Black group and they are on their way.

Problems arise when Curtis tries to move in on Marty’s turf, Jimmy Early. Curtis thinks that Jimmy could make more money playing for the white audience and tries to get Jimmy and the girls booked into the very segregated Miami Atlantic Hotel (where even the men parking the cars are white). Curtis takes matter into his own hands and pretending to be Jimmy’s manager calls the Hotel’s manager and they seal the deal. Meanwhile, Effie and Curtis begin a relationship and Jimmy, a married man, begins an affair with Lorrell.

With the Miami booking, Curtis works to transform Jimmy Early into a white ballad singer a la Perry Como. He also works to turn the Dreamettes into their own act, renaming them “The Dreams” and replacing Effie as lead singer with Deena which makes Effie resentful. With their new pop-friendly sound, The Dreams make their debut in Cleveland, Ohio at the Crystal Room and are a huge hit. As their fame and fortunes rise, Deena is more sought after and Effie becomes temperamental and unpredictable. Effie suspects that Curtis is cheating on her with Deena. After a number of squabbles Effie is forced out of the band as a new back-up singer, Michelle Morris (Taniya Hughley) is brought in and the act heads to Las Vegas leaving a pregnant Effie in the dust.

So a word about All City Musical. Each year (except when we had that little Covid hiccup) students from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District gather to rehearse. It is a months long proposition involving hundreds of students, teachers, technical personnel and musicians striving to put together a truly great Broadway style production. Every year they succeed and this year is no different.

The Dream Girls are just that...a dream. Lailah Irby as Effie, Jade Gantt as Lorrell, Aanaiyah Kemp as Deena and Taniya Hughley as Michelle are the real deal with solid harmonies. Jaylyn Bridges as Jimmy Early is a ball of electric energy who commands the stage. DeSean Hunter as Curtis plays the baddie that you have to admire for his Chutzpah. Heath Thompson as C.C. does a fine job in his supporting role. Other members of the cast include: Mariyah McMillon as Charlene, Ja’Miyah Youngs as Joann, Angelo Sanford as Tiny Joe Dixon, Zion Benson as Wayne and Mr. Morgan, Brian Currie as the press agent Frank, Izaiah Rollins as Dwight, Isaiah Young as the M.C., Jerry Norman and Stage Manager, Dishon Fox as the security guard, with Taniyah Abdullah, Krystina McMillon also in the cast. The ensemble is made up of Victoria Campbell, Kaitlyn Clark, Miyani Figueroa, Jaiyah Pryor, Brooklynn Randle, Jaynaea Reed, Lauryn Stewart, LeAna Woods and Sheldon Zanders Jr.

The show is masterly directed by Kimberly Brown. Music Director Dr. David M. Thomas rides herd on his assemblage of truly gifted musicians (12 in all). The excellent choreography is by Rosalyn Dale “Coach Pinque”. Thomas James Hauser keeps the entire production glued together along with stage manager Lex Cuevas. John Ebert is the production manager of note. The elaborate costumes are the dreams of Inda Blatch-Geib and costume assistant Sydney DeMatteis-Geib with Brielle McGrew working as wardrobe supervisor. The elaborate lighting design is by Colleen Albrecht and the huge ever changing stage presentation comes from the mind of Dave Brooks. Stan Kozak handles the complicated sound design that includes making sure that the orchestra is heard and balanced with the mic’d singers. Dreb Geib handles the props. Ennin Geib works hard as the props and costume assistant with dressers Jenai Mosley, Jill England and Nathaniel Stewart getting everyone dressed and ready to go on stage. Jasmine Banes is the assistant stage manager with Adam Ditzel as the assistant lighting designer and Andrew Roland as the all important master electrician. So as you can see there are lots of people involved in making this a superb show.

Close your eyes and you will think that you are listening to an authentic Broadway performance. Open your eyes and you will be greeted with a most superb stage set with professional lighting and sound all done by local Cleveland area students. This is your chance to see top quality entertainment by dedicated students from the Cleveland, Ohio area. SEE THIS SHOW!

The All City Musical production of “Dream Girls” will be on stage in the Mimi Ohio Theatre at Playhouse Square with public performances set for Friday, March 22, 2024 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 23, 2024 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 24, 2024 at 3:00 p.m. For more information go to or call (216) 241-6000.


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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.  

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