By Edward Kliszus
Stepping onto New York’s iconic Café Carlyle stage, Broadway rehearsal pianist and accompanist extraordinaire Seth Rudetsky warmly greeted guests and fellow luminaries like Brenda Braxton and Aisha de Haas, seated in the audience for tonight’s musical celebration of Tony Eyen’s Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Dreamgirls. Dreamgirls told the story of a 1960s girl group called “The Dreams” and their rise to fame. It was loosely based on the history of Motown-era girl groups such as The Supremes, The Shirelles, and The Ronettes.
Brown took a passionate, powerful lead in singing Move from Dreamgirls, an amusing, dynamic number portraying the joy of rising in popularity as The Dreams made a name for themselves. The charming, self-deprecating Brown was an immediate hit with the audience with her rich, warm, and expressive voice of an angel.
Rudetsky invited the fabulous Brenda Braxton, original dance captain for Dreamgirls on Broadway, onto the stage for a cameo interview. Braxton described some of her Dreamgirls experiences and shared insights on what it was like to audition on a stage in a Broadway theater. She chuckled as she recalled her authorship of The Little Black Book of Back Stage Etiquette.
Fake Your Way to the Top was sung by de Haas with backup vocals from his three co-stars. Haas passionately portrayed the character of Effie White, the lead singer of The Dreams. He characterized the disillusionment associated with the music industry’s superficiality– a focus on image versus authenticity. With his captivating, heartfelt, marvelous singing, De Haas effortlessly and soulfully glided throughout his range with emotional depth, nuance, and power.
We discovered that Rudetsky, Wachen, de Haas, and Brown were all part of the cast of Rent. They shared anecdotes of those times before performing a moving, passionate rendition of Jonathan Larson’s Seasons of Love, ably characterizing the contemplation of the nature of time and how one measures a year in life. The ensemble marvelously expressed the song’s love, loss, and mortality themes.
As the main antagonist, Curtis Taylor, Jr., De Haas passionately delivered the heartbreaking ballad Family to convince Effie to give up her lead for a spot as a background singer. After singing, he pensively noted that “theater is the great unifier—a balm.”
The ebullient Wachen noted that “every man has his own special dream” as she fervidly led the title song Dreamgirls, setting the stage for the characters’ journeys to stardom.
The songs, stories, and scenes continued with intimate portrayals by tonight’s coterie of gifted artists, touching hearts and garnering admiration. Brown led the final, passionate It’s All Over, marking The Dreams’ denouement, as Effie is fired from the group. The song was a powerful, emotional number showcasing Effie’s talent and the group’s disintegration. However, as in the original Dreamgirls production, a hopeful note emerged as the characters discovered their paths.
Rudetsky luxuriated as rehearsal pianist, accompanist, and raconteur, ensuring a gala and set of reenactments honoring the dynamic music, stunning choreography, and powerful performances enjoyed in Dreamgirls at Broadway’s Imperial Theatre from 1981 through 1985.
Tonight was not just a performance one views upwards from a distant theater seat; it was an intimate soiree of artists sharing stories, memories, and music akin to the famed gatherings held in Paris during La Belle Epoch—you may recall poet Stéphan Mallarmé’s Tuesday get-togethers at his house on the rue de Rome with the likes of Oscar Wilde, Claude Debussy, W. B. Yeats, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
Seth Rudesky hosted an event at Café Carlyle that, in the annals of theater, shall remain a special night of incredible music, cherished remembrances, personal anecdotes, and Broadway history told by the artists who live it. It was indeed a biographical sojourn of epic artistic proportions.
Café Carlyle at the Rosewood Hotel
35 E. 76th Street
New York, NY 10075