As befits a work about the essential art of repackaging in show business, “Dreamgirls” has known several distinct incarnations. First, there was the 1981 Broadway musical. Then came the 2006 movie. And now there is “Dreamgirls,” the comic strip, which opened Sunday night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.
Audiences who attend this bluntly drawn, pastels-saturated production, which runs though Dec. 12 prior to a national tour, should feel at least a demi-shiver of the excitement generated by “Dreamgirls” when it first hit town nearly 28 years ago. Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger’s portrayal of takin’ care of business, Motown style, has a fine-tuned, score-propelled motor that just naturally purrs and roars.
Make that “Purr!” and “Roar!” Robert Longbottom’s revival of this landmark musical, inspired by the career of the Supremes and first staged with dazzling inventiveness by Michael Bennett, brings to mind Roy Lichtenstein’s color-dotted Pop paintings, in which women from comic-book panels are fixed in states of emotional crisis, single tears frozen on their cheeks.
That’s partly because of the illuminated moving walls that are the main fixtures of Robin Wagner’s set and depict everything from cityscapes to banks of television monitors in bright points of light. But the performances too go Pop (or “Pop!”) in portraying an industry so driven by ego and ambition that stopping in the name of love (never mind ethnic integrity) is not allowed. When the characters here sing of betrayal, aspiration and determination, you imagine bubbles forming over their heads, filled with lyrics and exclamation points.