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Published: Thursday, 4/25/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Stranahan to wake up Toledo with ‘Dreamgirls’

BY JULIE NJAIM
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Terrance Johnson’s story might make other actors envious.

Shortly after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, he was offered the part of C.C. White in Dreamgirls, opening today for a three-day run at the Stranahan Theater as part of the Broadway in Toledo series presented by the Theater League.

“It’s been a dream role for about eight years now. When I saw a clip of Jennifer Holliday at the Tonys singing ‘And I am Telling You I’’m Not Going’ her voice knocked me over. I still get chills when I watch it on stage. I had to go to the store and get the original soundtrack, and that’s when I first heard the C.C. stuff. I knew I had to sing it,” Johnson said in a recent phone interview from Atlanta, one of more than 60 cities the tour will visit before heading to Japan this summer.

Dreamgirls opened on Broadway in December, 1981, and closed in August, 1985, after 1,521 performances. It won six 1982 Tony Awards for Best Book, Best Actor (Ben Harney) Best Actress (Jennifer Holliday), Best Lighting, and Best Choreography.

It’s had two Broadway revivals and a 2006 film version starring Beyonce Knowles, Jennifer Hudson, Eddie Murphy, and Jamie Foxx. Hudson won the 2007 Academy Award for best supporting actress for her role as Effie White.

The book written by Tom Eyen bears striking similarities to the story of The Supremes and is set in the mid-1960s and early 1970s. “It is the story of the Supremes with a happier ending for Effie. In real life Effie is based on Florence Ballard ... in the end... she was screwed over,” Johnson said.

Effie is the lead singer of the R&B trio The Dreamettes. The group gets a makeover, a name change, and a new lead singer in an effort to cross over to the pop charts. Effie is replaced and bitter. Her brother C.C. becomes a successful songwriter and cuts Effie out of his life.

“He loses sight of what’s important. Ambition is driving him when he’s younger. He dismisses the relationship with his sister...It takes him a while to realize that it's reconnecting with his sister and helping her reach the top that makes his success worthwhile,” Johnson said.

“One of the big themes of the show is show business is just business. It’s true in life or I am beginning to realize it,” he said. Johnson considered changing his career aspirations in college while pursuing his bachelor of fine arts degree.

“When you’re learning about the industry it kind of dampens the passion. ‘Is this really what I want to be involved in?’ ” said Johnson, 23, who graduated in May, 2012, and started working with children’s theater and dabbling in teaching. “It reignited my passion,” he said. He landed the role of C.C. 10 days before rehearsals started for this tour that opened New Year’s day in Yakima, Wash.

Acting in a show with depth fuels his passion.“Doing the show, the magic is there. I feel the flame again. I want to do something well written, with depth. I say this show definitely has a lasting impression.”

When the show opens today, the cast will have performed it about 120 times. It can be challenging to keep the material fresh, Johnson said. “When you do the show so many times you almost go on auto pilot. I felt like I was struggling not to go on auto pilot.”

Johnson turned back to the script for inspiration. “It’s about getting as close to the text as possible. I re-read the script and see what the author intended...You find new discoveries that make it fresh again. After having that realization I’m not afraid of auto pilot anymore.”

“Dreamgirls" performances will be at 8 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday at the Stranahan Theater,4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Additional performances will be at 2 p.m. Saturday and at 2 p.m. and 7p.m. Sunday. Ticket prices range from $23 to $63. Information: 419-381-8851 or theaterleague.com.

Contact Julie Njaim at jnjaim@theblade.com.



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