And Miki Howard, the pop singer who portrays Deena, the Dreams' lead singer, won't be confused with Diana Ross, the supreme Supreme. This is Howard's first stage role, and she hasn't learned how to project her light voice. Even with amplification, her singing lacks presence in the large theater.
Howard is far from the only problem in this lackluster show. Although there are a couple of stand-out numbers, most of the singing is mediocre.
Howard is the production's featured name performer, but her character does not have the strongest singing role. That falls to the singer playing Effie, and her big song, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," should be the show's musical summit. Here, it's a disappointment.
A sort of secular gospel number, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" is a showpiece of high-volume vocal pyrotechnics delivered with passionate intensity. Cynthia Waddell turns up both the volume and the emotional pitch, but her voice lacks musicality, and the words sound yelled rather sung. Loud as she is, the orchestra manages to drown out some parts of the song, an annoying problem that persists throughout the show.
That number is Effie's swan song with the Dreams. She leaves the group and is replaced by Michelle, a role taken by a singer named Marisol. If the Dreams weren't much, even with Waddell's vocal energy, they are considerably less in the second act with Marisol, whose voice has even less presence than Howard's.
The best of the female singers is April Harris, who plays Lorrell, the third member of the Dreams. Harris has a strong, pushy, tuneful voice, which she uses to good effect in the man-done-her-wrong song, "Ain't No Party."
The male voices aren't much either, but together are used to good effect in the moody song and dance number, "Steppin' to the Bad Side."
Even though the story of Dreamgirls is primarily a framework for the musical numbers, it should get better treatment than it receives here. The acting is generally amateurish, with the actors talking earnestly at, rather than sincerely to, each other. No one bothers to find a personality for his or her character, a shortcoming particularly noticeable in Howard's pallid portrayal of Deena, and in Eric Jordan Young's biteless Curtis, the manipulative manager of the Dreams.
If this production is not particularly skillful, it does have drive and energy. Its main sparkplugs are Waddell, whose rotund, outspoken Effie is a force unto herself, and Cary Hampton who, as the the happy-go-lucky singer James Thunder Early, booms joyfully onward through the show.
Don't expect to be dazzled by massive sets in this touring version of a Broadway musical. The serves-all-purposes setting consists of three large towers holding colored lights, which are pushed around the stage to vary their position from scene to scene. When the Dreams sing, a curtain consisting of strings threaded with crystal glass drops down to glitter in the spotlights.
There's not much to load up and carry to the next city.
Story and lyrics by Tom Eyen; music by Henry Krieger; directed by Ron Nash; settings by George & Goldberg Associates; costumes by Tom Augustine; lighting by Ron Farino.
Deena - Miki Howard
Effie - Cynthia Waddell
Curtis - Eric Jordan Young
Lorrell - April Harris
James Thunder Early - Cary Hampton
C.C. - Darnell Pritchard
Michelle - Marisol
Marty - Darrin Byrd
Playing at: Merriam Theater, 250 S Broad St., through Saturday. Tickets are $16-$27.50. Information: 215-336-2000.