Theatre Review: I Dream
There’s a beautifully sung musical drama called “I Dream” making its world premiere in Atlanta at the Alliance Theatre, running through July 31. It’s subtitled “the story of a preacher from Atlanta,” and it deals with the life and times of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. With book, music, and lyrics by Douglas Tappin and direction by Jasmine Guy, “I Dream” is not an Alliance production (Musical Dramatic Arts, Inc. is producing), but it uses the Alliance mainstage.
As you know, there is so much drama and poignance inherent in Dr. King’s story that any theatrical representation of his life becomes a challenge to humanize the man. We know the legend and the vast repercussions of what he said and did; for drama we need human beings, and this is where “I Dream” will surely do some tweaking—especially if it has aspirations for Broadway or the West End. But make no mistake: the show is powerful right now, full of glorious music and glorious singers (and a 15 piece orchestra). It is not going away.
But it’s no coincidence that many of the most effective moments in this “sung through” (i.e., operatic) drama are small and intimate. For example, the young Martin (Kamil McFadden) and his boyhood white friend Ronald (Royce Mann) are touching in showing the guileless sweet friendship of children—before they are “carefully taught,” as Rogers and Hammerstein would say. And the scenes with young Martin and his grandmother (Avery Sunshine) are similarly beautiful. When the grown King (Quentin Earl Darrington) first meets Coretta (Demetria McKinney), the charming shyness of courtship is totally winning.
The friendship of Dr. King and Ralph David Abernathy (Ben Polite) is moving, powerful, and of course, historically important.
These three performers—Mr. Darrington, Ms. McKinney, and Mr. Polite—are blessed with gorgeous singing voices. In fact, in this large cast I didn’t hear any voices that did not impress and inspire. And when the entire cast is in full voice, singing fortissimo, as they often are, the effect is overwhelming. The problem is that dramatically, you can’t stay on the mountaintop, so to speak, because the audience can become numb to all that vocal power and brilliance; and this show is too important for that to happen. There are over 60 songs in “I Dream.”
Kat Conley’s impressive, overarching set, a sort of elliptical cathedral which casts a majestic tone over the whole piece, is at once impressive and a bit foreboding.
If I were you, I’d see “I Dream” because it’s quite magnificent, and is destined to be a part of theatrical history.