Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Tag: Syesha Mercado

“Dreamgirls” Is A Dream of a Play in Chicago

Dreamgirls-001“Dreamgirls,” the 1981 Motown musical by Henry Krieger and Tom Ewen which became the 2006 hit movie that made Jennifer Hudson (Effie) a star and garnered Eddie Murphy a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his role as James “Thunder” Early, a character based on James Brown blew into the Windy City on Tuesday, January 12th for a mere two-week run. As I write this on Saturday, January 23, the play has a very short life in town left and will be gone before it can be appreciated as the best show Broadway in Chicago has mounted this season…so far (and there’s only one left, “101 Dalmations.”)

The play began at the Apollo Theater last fall, where it received rave reviews and there is buzz that it might have a full-on Broadway opening after the tour, which includes a month in Tokyo. The production “stars” Syesha Mercado in the movie’s Beyonce role as Deena Jones, said to be based on Diana Ross. The Supremes who back her up are played, first, by Moya Angela as Effie, the role that Jennifer Hudson took all the way to Oscar gold, and then byAdrienne Warren as Lorrell Robinson and Margaret Hoffman as Michelle Morris, the later “Dream” girls (after Effie is replaced).

In the movie, Jennnifer Hudson took the “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” song and belted it impressively, but Moya Angela is no less impressive. Her voice is impressive: massive and worthy of the starring role she portrays. Syesha Mercado’s stint as Deena Jones is good, also. After all, the singer was second runner-up in the 2007 “American Idol” tryouts, and, a graduate of the theater program of Florida International University, she received the prestigious South Eastern Theatre Conference’s Best Supporting Actress award even before that.
Deserving of special mention are the two male leads: Chaz Lamar Shepherd as Curtis Taylor and Chester Gregory, a Chicago native, in the Eddie Murphy role as James “Thunder” Early. Shepherd appears onstage more than any other actor, tying the entire plot together and he both acts and sings extremely well. He has appeared as Harpo on Broadway in “The Color Purple” and was on the Billboard charts 3 times in 2009. His soul/R&B album is to be released during the “Dreamgirls” tour. His gospel work was Grammy nominated in 2009.

The crowd favorite amongst the male leads, much as in the movie, has to be Chester Gregory, a graduate of Columbia College (BFA) who got his start at Chicago’s Black Ensemble Theater playing Jackie Wilson, courtesy of Jackie Taylor of that ensemble. Said Ms. Taylor, in a Chicago Tribune interview on Sunday, January 17, “I had been wanting to produce the Jackie Wilson story for a long time, but I always felt like I didn’t have a strong enough Wilson.  This was going to be a ride specifically for Chester.”

And what a ride it was! It took Chester Gregory (he has now dropped the II from his name) all the way to New York’s Apollo Theater, where he made enough of a mark, complete with a Wilson-like back-flip while onstage, that he has picked up work ever since with parts in “Hairspray,” “Cry-Baby,” “Tarzan,” and performing for Michael Jackson. In fall, 2011, Gregory has promised to reprise his star-making role as Jackie Wilson for his “theatrical mother” Jackie Taylor at the opening of the Black Ensemble Theater’s new North Side home. The play was the most popular and profitable the Black Ensemble has ever put on.

For his role as the womanizing James Brown-like James “Thunder” Early in “Dreamgirls” Chester Gregory gets the most memorable stage time (along with the part of Effie) if not the greatest amount of it. Manager Curtis Taylor, Jr., tries hard to tone down the soul brother, so that, at one point, the unhappy singer says, “Last time I was here three people thought I was Tony Bennett.” It’s Curtis’ plan to break the black acts into the Big Time, and he wants James to tone it down and behave because it’s hard to book black acts into places like Miami in the sixties. As one character says, “That place is so white they don’t even let our boys park the cars.”

Chester Gregory makes the most of his time onstage. At one point, he sticks the microphone into the front of his pants, and there is the famous scene (also in the movie) where he drops trou while playing a chi chi white club, causing Curtis to fire him and tell him, “Your time has passed.”

The character of Curtis (Chaz Lamar Shepherd) is described at various points as a “two-bit car salesman” and he certainly seems to be a huckster (called a “second class snake” by Marty, Jimmy Early’s first manager) who will woo whomever he must to get his way. However, Curtis does seem to have idealized and idolized Deena (Syesha Mercado), who eventually becomes his wife, as he sings to her, “I needed a dream but it all seemed to go bad. You were the only reason I had to go on. You are the things I can never be. They’ll never take my dreams from me.” Unfortunately, as Deena (Syesha Mercado) tells him, “I want to be an artist,” most specifically a film star. Curtis says, “You’ll do what I tell you.” Deena (Syesha Mercado) says, to Effie, in a scene of reconciliation, “I played the role he gave to me. Now I don’t know who I’m supposed to be.”

Special mention should be made of the singing, of course, but the dancing and costumes are just as outstanding. William Ivey Long did the costume design and the sparkly lavish costumes rival anything the real Dreamgirls (i.e., the Supremes) ever wore. There is even one very creative costume change (for Effie) that takes place while she is singing about changing, onstage. The spotlight focuses to just Effie’s (Moya Angela’s) face and, in a heartbeat, she emerges from “everyday” clothes she is singing in for an audition and is now clad in a lavender sparkly gown.

This was by far the best play of the series, so far, beating “In the Heights” by a mile and “Young Frankenstein” by a nose. I also liked it better than “The Addams Family,” which is supposed to take Broadway by storm. It’s just a shame that “Dreamgirls” is leaving Chicago so soon, as it definitely is worth Broadway theater ticket prices, with energy and talent to burn.

Teddy Bear of Talent Will Take the Top Prize

David ArchuletaNobody was surprised when Syesha Mercado went home, and nobody should be surprised when David Archuleta bests David Cook on Wednesday on “American Idol.”

Jason Castro, “the Loopster” Departs “American Idol” on May 7th

Jason Castro, AKA \

I’ve taken to calling Jason Castro “the loopster.” His loopy answers and attitude perhaps coincide well with his comment that “I’m a fun guy. I hope I can convey that to the American public.” After that video clip on the Wednesday night show, Jason is seen saying, “These are terrible answers.” He proves that his answers were, indeed, terrible, by saying (of the song from Andrew Lloyd Webber week), “I didn’t know a cat was singing it. Oh, boy!” Maybe a good idea to look into the origin of the song you are singing, from the musical “Cats!” which might have provided the Loopster with his first clue.

Earlier on May 7th‘s “American Idol,” the four contestants remaining (David Archuleta, David Cook, Syesha Mercado and Jason Castro) were flown to Las Vegas’ Mirage Hotel to see “Love,” the Beatles extravaganza on a private jet. Jason is shown reclining on a bed in the back of the private plane saying something about how it is so cool. (spelled “kewl,” in the Loopster’s case).

A large portion of the show was taken up with callers, ranging from 24-year-old Emily in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who asked David Cook out on a date when the “American Idol” tour hits her town (David said, “We’ll see.” My mom always said that when she meant no.) to 45-year-old Marla who told Simon Cowell he was “sexy and intriguing” and should be “the next James Bond.”

The performing group for the night was “Maroon Five,” and the soloist who returned to “American Idol” from a previous year’s competition was Bo Bice, who announced that he and his wife are having (or have?) a new son.

The Loopster got in a few good lines before departing. As Ryan Seacrest introduced him as having sung “most of Tambourine Man,” he said, “Somebody told me I shot the Tambourine Man,” (a reference to the two songs he selected on Rock & Roll Week, “I Shot the Sheriff” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.”)

Jason seemed genuinely glad to be leaving and left with the comment that he thought “My inexperience has just been coming through” and “Dreams do come true, so dream big.”

David Archuleta Emerges as Frontrunner After May 6th “Idol”

david_archuleta36_large4 David Archuleta Emerges As Clear Front-Runner After May 6th “Idol”

Not that this will surprise anyone, but David Archuleta has to be considered the front-runner after all three judges praised his vocal prowess and he blew away the competition with his renditions of “Love Me Tender” and “Stand By Me” during Rock & Roll Hall of Fame week. The big loser: the dreadlocked Jason Castro, who forgot the words to Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” looked as awful as usual, and earned, from Simon this succinct review: “Jason, I’d pack your suitcase.” (Ouch!)

Most of us have been saying, “Jason, pack your suitcase for weeks now, so the Castro kid is beginning to remind a bit of that lesser talent, Sanjia Malakar, who consistently made it through after inferior performances. His gimmick: his hair. I’d think about a haircut, were I Jason, but, failing that, at least get Bob Marley’s music right. Simon summed up his performance of Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” as “utterly atrocious” and something that was more like the open auditions days, not the final four. The ending of the “Mr. Tambourine Man” song sounded horrible, the guitar Jason clutched seem to really be just a prop, and from his breathy opening to his weak close, Jason was outclasses. The lyric he sang that applies? “If I am guilty, I will pay.” He was definitely guilty of all the above, and I have a feeling he will pay.

Most improved of the four remaining performers, as was the case last week, was Syesha Mercado, who came out and did “Proud Mary” proud, followed by Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna’ Come.” Randy reduced Syesha to tears by brusquely criticizing her red-hot vocals, and Ryan Seacrest got a laugh by saying, “Well, Randy. Thanks for the buzz kill.” When Randy attempted to explain his overly harsh criticism of one of the night’s outstanding performers and two of the night’s most consistently good performances (2nd only to David Archuleta’s), Seacrest cut him off, saying, “We’re running out of time. ‘Hell’s Kitchen”s gonna start.”

David Cook performed his first song, Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” to criticism from Randy (“Just an OK choice”) that was echoed by the others, and, later, said he agreed with the judges and would wipe the memory of his first song away by performing more strongly on his second song, which, unfortunately, was a Who song that, aside from it use on “C.S.I.” episodes, is not that big a crowd-pleaser and ended with the words “Teenage waste” or “Teen waste,” hardly an uplifting image.

For me, there was no stronger performer for the evening than the other David (Archuleta), followed by Syesha, David Cook and…last and certainly least, Jason Castro, who has overstayed his welcome and should have been gone long before Carly Smithson, Michael Johns and/or Brooke White.

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