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Posted at 11:16 AM ET, 12/ 3/2010

Dream Girls opens at Ellington H.S.

By Washington Post editors

Victoria Ellington, Amber Jones and Victoria Davis perform in 'Dreamgirls' at Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts. (Hamil R. Harris/The Washinton Post)

My colleague Hamil Harris saw the premiere of Dream Girls and filed this report...

First there was Jennifer Holiday. Then came Jennifer Hudson. Now nearly 30 years after Dream Girls stormed Broadway, 17-year-old Victoria Davis gave a heart-wrenching vocal performance Thursday night at the Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts.

Davis brought many in the crowd to tears with her portrayal of singer Effie White. An army of other students contributed by applying make up, styling hair or playing string instruments in the pit under a grand stage. The production is scheduled to run for 14 nights, until Dec. 18. Tickets started at $25.

"We feel that it is our responsibility as a pre-professional training ground for the arts to provide students with these kinds of real grown opportunities," said Ellington Principal Rory Pullens. "Duke Ellington is experiencing a severe budgetary shortfall and the revenue from this production is going to go towards saving teachers in the arts."

The event was the result of many months of work. Hollywood and Broadway actors were brought in as consultants. The design of the set, which included a revolving stage, began over the summer. And rehearsals began in September. People were curling wigs and sewing buttons on some of the 300-plus costumes just minutes before the show began.

The play was a theatrical coming-out party for many of the students, whether they were acting on stage, playing in the orchestra pit or operating lights back stage. Everyone seemed to enjoy being part of something that was much bigger than themselves.

Even though Davis has been singing in the church since the age of three, she said she had her doubts when she first came to Ellington three years ago. "Duke Ellington is a school full of talented young artists, so it was, 'Oh my God all of these talented musicians and singers, they have beautiful voices, and I just sing.'"

But on stage, it seemed hard to separate fiction from reality as Davis portrayed the character of a young woman who overcame lack of confidence, heartbreak and deceitful music executives to make it to the main stage of show business. The plot was inspired by the story of the Supremes.

"It is amazing feeling," said Ken Johnson, producing artistic director of the production. "We have been working for four months, we had 300 costumes, 100 wigs and 150 kids back stage and not really certain that we could pull this off, but tonight the audience showed up, we showed up, and magic happened on the stage."

Here's a link to the video. Take a look.

By Washington Post editors  | December 3, 2010; 11:16 AM ET
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