It’s a question Anna Armenia heard a lot in the lead up to the opening of the Australian premiere of the musical Dreamgirls. Her reply was always, “Well no, not really.”
The musical of Dreamgirls first opened on Broadway in 1982, but the 2006 movie version starring superstars Jennifer Hudson and Beyoncé made it well known to a much wider audience around the world. Armenia plays Deena Jones – the role made famous by Beyoncé in the movie version: the role that was loosely based on Diana Ross.
Armenia graduated from Federation University in Ballarat last year. Just a week after finishing her degree she auditioned for the Stage Art Australian premiere of In The Heights and landed the leading role of Nina. Just a week after finishing the season of In The Heights she landed the role of Deena Jones in Dreamgirls – another Stage Art Australian premiere.
It’s the sort of thing all musical theatre students dream of – a leading role in a show straight out of university – and Armenia is certainly very grateful of the opportunities. The role of Deena is very different to anything Armenia has done in the past. Being part of the Dreams, (based on the super group The Supremes) the performers are completely dependent upon each other musically. Armenia describes the music as much more intricate then any solos from previous shows. The music is a huge part of this show and well known to audiences.
To prepare for the role, Armenia researched the music of the 60s, Diana Ross and The Supremes, but avoided going back to watch the movie version of Dreamgirls. Armenia admits it would have been easy to simply watch the movie and then imitate Beyoncé’s interpretation of the character, but Armenia wanted to start from scratch and create her own unique portrayal of Deena.
Armenia is also well aware of the pressure of audience expectation, admitting that as much as she tries to block it out, audiences have a preconceived idea of what they expect of her role, and of the show, if they already love the movie. There is also the pressure to bring a certain sound to the Dreams, knowing they can only bring to the show what is unique to them.
(Left to right: Zenya Carmellotti, Anna Francesca Armenia, Thando Sikwila)
Riding on the success of their first production for 2015, In The Heights, Armenia knows she is working again with a company that is fully committed to delivering a high quality show with the same level of professionalism and energy you would expect in a big commercial show. She comments Stage Art is an amazing company that is bringing shows to Australia the commercial producers wouldn’t consider. It also means performers get to play roles they had only ever dreamed of playing in Australia.
Whether you’re a fan of the 60s era of music, a fan of Diana Ross and The Supremes or a fan of the movie version of Dreamgirls, it’s worth seeing this stage production while you can. Requiring a largely non-Caucasian cast, Dreamgirls is a challenge for any production company to stage and who knows when we will have the opportunity to see it again.
Dreamgirls is currently playing at Chapel Off Chapel until Sunday 14th June and tickets are selling fast.
For tickets: www.chapeloffchapel.com.au