There’s a moment in the musical “Dreamgirls” that must soar for the production to live up to expectations. Nearly everyone remembers the powerful Broadway and film performances of Jennifer Holliday in 1981 and Jennifer Hudson in 2006 when they sang “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” Moya Angela, who stars as Effie White in the national tour of “Dreamgirls,” explodes with a similarly intense yearning and determination.
There’s a moment in the musical “Dreamgirls” that must soar for the production to live up to expectations.
Nearly everyone remembers the powerful Broadway and film performances of Jennifer Holliday in 1981 and Jennifer Hudson in 2006 when they sang “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.”
Moya Angela, who stars as Effie White in the national tour of “Dreamgirls,” explodes with a similarly intense yearning and determination.
“I really have to prepare myself when I’m getting into that song because it is so emotional and painful,” said Angela, who is onstage Feb. 3-14 at The Colonial Theatre. “I go into a special place and really hit it hard.”
Angela, 26, is not intimidated by the role, for which Holliday received a Tony Award and Hudson won an Academy Award.
“It’s such an inspiration to follow them,” Angela said. “I feel like I want to make them proud. But I know what makes me me, and I try to make it my version of Effie.”
“Dreamgirls” is the story of a Detroit trio transformed from an R&B back-up group to a top-selling pop act, the Dreams, modeled on the experience of The Supremes. At the peak of success, lead singer Effie loses both her place in the group and in the heart of Curtis, its agent. In the musical’s show stopper, she refuses to accept her loss.
“Unfortunately, I’ve been there, where you feel like you have to beg someone to be with you and that still doesn’t work,” Angela said. “It takes you to a place where you don’t want to be. But you do come out of it after a while and feel your strength and push forward.”
Along with heartbreak, Angela drew on her feelings of inadequacy to portray Effie. She had completed a 21/2-year tour with “The Lion King” and was questioning her direction, when she received a call to audition for “Dreamgirls.”
“It was an insecure time for me, and I had doubts about what else would come my way,” said Angela, who grew up in Indianapolis and studied opera and classical voice in college. “But it helped me feel what Effie went through.”
Angela said she thinks Effie – and the other characters making their mark in music – have something to say to everyone, because it’s the rare person who hasn’t had setbacks, caused by their own doing, others, or a combination. Effie is particularly sympathetic, not just because she is a great talent cast aside, but because she comes to accept some responsibility.
“There are things she has done to make it worse than it would have been, and she realizes that what happened to her was not all someone else’s fault,” she said.
When Effie sings “Listen,” she is repairing her relationship with Deena Jones, the singer who usurped her in the Dreams and then unintentionally stole her fame eight years later when she recorded Effie’s comeback single. Deena, played by “American Idol” second runner-up Syesha Mercado, eventually turns against Curtis’ to expose the harm he caused Effie.
“It’s an uplifting song for me,” Angela said. “I’m no longer the girl who went crazy onstage and screamed at people and had so much sadness. I’m making a comeback. I love to see that change.”
Angela calls the show “an eye opener” for men, since the powerful, manipulative Curtis is abandoned by the women he mistreated and controlled.
“It’s a good lesson in how not to treat people,” she said.
Directed by Robert Longbottom, the creative team includes original set designer Robin Wagner and composer Henry Krieger. Choreographer Shane Sparks, of “So You Think You Can Dance,” adds to Michael Bennett’s original choreography.
Reach Jody Feinberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DREAMGIRLS Book and lyrics by Tom Eyen with additional material by Willy Reale; music by Henry Krieger; directed and choreographed by Robert Longbottom. At the Colonial Theater, 106 Boylston, St., Boston. Feb. 3-14. $42 - $91, 800-982-2787 or www.broadwayacrossamerica.com.