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The Suburbanite
  • Star of ‘Dreamgirls’ is living out her own dreams as Effie

  • “ ‘Dreamgirls’ is my favorite show of all time. I’d seen it like 15 times before I had the opportunity to do it."

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  • In the history of musical theater, has there ever been a more primal, desperate, tear-the-house-down moment than the Act 1 finale of “Dreamgirls”?
    In that roof-raising anthem, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” a devastated young woman named Effie Melody White reacts to being ousted from the Supremes-like vocal trio of which she was once lead singer.
    Commonly, audience members begin standing up about midway through the song, sometimes offering their cheers and other vocal support to the heartbroken Effie.
    “Everything leads up to that moment in the show,” said Charity Dawson, who plays Effie in the national tour of “Dreamgirls,” playing Tuesday and Wednesday at the University of Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall.
    Asked about finding the inspiration to perform such an emotional number up to eight times a week, Dawson said, “That’s the beautiful thing about this show. Everything builds up, and you’re given all the ammo that you need.”
    As for the crowd reaction to “Dreamgirls,” Dawson said, “Some audiences like to be more reserved. They believe they’re being respectful and dignified. But it gives us more energy when the audience is more responsive. We like it when they whoop and holler and show us they are engaged.”
    Here are more highlights from a telephone conversation with Dawson, who was on the “Dreamgirls” tour bus en route to Delaware.
    Q. What do you think it was that landed you this huge role?
    A. “ ‘Dreamgirls’ is my favorite show of all time. I’d seen it like 15 times before I had the opportunity to do it, so I was very familiar with the character. I think that’s really what got me the role, my understanding of Effie.”
    Q. Is Effie a tragic character?
    A. “She is, but I think she’s a victor in the end. She’s dealt with a lot of hurt, a lot of pain and developed this hardened self, this survivor mentality. But throughout the show, she grows and changes and is able to let go of the past and move forward.”
    Q. Had you ever sang ‘And I Am Telling You’ before this tour?
    A. “I’ve been singing the music from this show for the past 10 years, being assigned these songs in school and having to perform them in showcases. But in the context of the show, it takes on a whole new meaning. Some incredible women have played this part before me, but I can’t worry about anyone else. I’m just trying to tell the story in the most honest way I can.”
    Q. Does ‘Dreamgirls’ have a young cast?
    A. “This cast is fairly young. The level of talent and commitment that everyone brings to the table is exciting.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Q. What is the production like visually?
    A. “It’s pretty great. We have LED panels that create everything from recording studios to airports to everything you can imagine.”
    Q. ‘Dreamgirls’ is set in the Motown era of the ’60s and early ’70s. Do you think the story is timely?
    A. “I feel it is timeless. It deals with the human condition and things we all go through — friendship, betrayal, love. Every new generation experiences these things.”
    Q. Were you a singer first or an actress?
    A. “I’ve been singing since I came out of the womb. I would hum myself to sleep as a baby. When I got into acting was my junior year of high school. I fell in love with storytelling, then I realized singing and songs were just stories to music. Then I was hooked.”