Brittney Johnson, Moya Angela, Jasmin Richardson and Danielle Truitt star in the LA MIRADA THEATRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS & McCOY RIGBY ENTERTAINMENT production of "DREAMGIRLS" - Directed and choreographed by Robert Longbottom. PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Lamont
By Darlene Donloe
It wasn’t until she called in sick for a performance and watched her understudy portray the iconic role of Effie White in Dreamgirls, that Moya Angela realized ‘all that it took to be in the show.’
It was actually the first time Angela had ever seen the show from an audience member’s perspective.
“That’s when I realized I was on the right path,” said Angela, an Indianapolis native who has been playing the role since 2009.
Angela, who is part of the touring company of Dreamgirls, is set to reprise her role as Effie White, a character that has been played by industry vets Jennifer Holliday, Lillias White and Jennifer Hudson, who won an Academy Award for her portrayal in the 2006 motion picture.
The full-scale musical, Dreamgirls, will be presented for four performances only May 6-8, at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) in Northridge.
The VPAC, La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and McCoy Rigby production of Dreamgirls, with book and lyrics by Tom Eyen, music by Henry Krieger, musical direction by Dennis Castellano, and directed and choreographed by Robert Longbottom.
Dreamgirls tells the story of an up-and-coming 1960s girl-singing group, and the triumphs and tribulations that come with fame and fortune. With music by Academy Award nominee Henry Krieger and book and lyrics by Tony and Grammy Award winner Tom Eyen, Dreamgirls features the unforgettable hits: "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," "One Night Only" and "Listen."
A huge talent with an enviable, booming voice, Angela, 32, is a Broadway veteran (The Lion King) who doesn’t have even a hint of diva-itis.
I caught up with Angela recently to talk about Dreamgirls and her career.
DD: Dreamgirls is now a classic. Did you ever think you would play Effie in the show?
MA: I never thought it would actually happen. I did know it was bound to happen though, if that makes sense. I say that because Effie is very particular. I always felt like it was a good role for me. It’s a perfect fit.
DD: Why and how is it a perfect fit?
MA: At the time I got the role, I had gotten out of a crazy relationship. I was a struggling artist. I had my heart broken. I was cocky. I was dealing with management that wasn’t good for me. I was Effie! I’m a method actress. I can take moments I’m going through and apply it on the stage.
DD: Tell me about Effie and how you went about developing her. How did you make her yours?
MA: At first I didn’t pay attention to making it mine. I wanted to stay true to the script and song. I was trying to just see it for what it is. The more we practiced, the more I understood. We practice a lot. People have no idea. We do it 50 million times before we do it for an audience. I think about how I really feel at certain moments. I took those things and started applying those moments. I would think about what I would do if my man called me fat or my friend stole my man. In the show Effie is starting to lose her mind. When you talk yourself through it you can go step through step. I did that and I came up with this complex character.
DD: What do you like/dislike about Effie?
MA: I like her strength. That’s one thing I really love about this character. Whatever she goes through, she bounces back. What I don’t like is – the impatient part of the character. These are your sisters you are yelling out. You didn’t give them a chance to explain. In the show she is young and doesn’t know how to do that. She’s never had her feelings hurt by friends before. I don’t like how she makes assumptions. It’s not everybody else’s fault when her demise happens.
DD: How did you come to be in this show?
MA: That was my miracle moment. I was nowhere near New York city. I was working at a flea market and basically selling socks at a flea market. I was a cashier struggling, barely surviving. My phone was disconnected. My mom was like, ‘I need you to get your phone back on.’ I was at a low point in my life. I laid low. One random day I got a call from a casting agency to fly to New York to audition for the show. This was nine months after they had already had auditions. I don’t know how they got the phone number.
DD: Girl, that voice is crazy. It’s not fair. You studied opera at Kentucky State, right?
MA: I was classically trained. I studied opera music. I studied music education and minored in acting.
DD: Do you understand the voice you have?
MA: I didn’t when I was younger. I did in high school. I knew how massive my instrument was. I needed training, though. I decided to get classically trained. I wanted control over it. I was in an awesome concert choir. We did Bach songs in eight part harmony. I was in opera theater music workshops. We would put on full operas. They used to call me the amplifier. The power behind my voice is crazy. In opera you have to learn how to sing in an auditorium, over an orchestra, with no mikes.
DD: What does acting do for you?
MA: That’s a funny question. Acting alone does not touch me like acting with music touches me. I love to act, but I really love to sing. What I love about acting is playing people you wouldn’t be in regular life. Just to be able to play a character like that – there is so much work put into characters. I love the backstory I get to make. It’s such a passion of mine. I’m an acting teacher. I work for Broadway in the Hood in Las Vegas. I teach an acting class to eager young people. Well, some of them are older than me. They are my babies. They are really good. I’m always thinking, “What can I learn from them?” We do classes and different productions. We get a month off after this. I’m going to do Dreamgirls with my students on May 28 at the Smith Center. After that, I continue the tour of show. We go to Tokyo in June.
DD: Do you like touring?
MA: I liked touring. When I first started doing Broadway shows I liked it. My first was The Lion King. I’ve been with five different companies all over the world of The Lion King. I did this tour. I was on the road for seven years. I’m tired of touring now, but you get to see different parts of the country. What you do touches other people. How I think about how we can change communities. Giving back is a part that I love.
DD: Tell me about touring.
MA: Last year I lived in South Africa. I also lived in Germany. I was in Germany doing a production of The Lion King. I played Shenzi, the hyena. It was a full production of the show. It was all in German. When I was done with that I had proved to myself that I don’t just have to be in New York or LA.
DD: And South Africa?
MA: I was a drama teacher there. I needed a sabbatical. I moved to South Africa for teaching my music. I was also in a relationship. My boyfriend is South African. We’re still together. I needed something different. I needed a break. New York was wearing me out a little bit. I love it for work, but not to live there. Now I live in Vegas.
DD: This is a hard business. What do you do when the phone stops ringing – or has it?
MA: It always stops ringing. The truth of the matter is you find other things creatively that you’re good at. I’m a teacher. I do workshops. I find things for myself. You have to be thirsty about yourself. You have to go after things for yourself. It’s important to do outreach and philanthropy. I can’t just sing everywhere. I don’t do this for me. I do it for what it does for other people. When the phone stops ringing, I have to remember I’m not doing it for the money. You have to have thick skin. You have to be around people who inspire you and tell you to keep going. When the phone stops ringing it could be good and bad.
DD: By what method do you decide whether to take a role?
MA: First and foremost I have to be passionate about the story. I’m funny like that. I will read the whole script when my agency sends it to me. Once I’m passionate about it, I decide if it’s a good fit. For me, I don’t just take jobs. I have turned down jobs. Been off and on for 10 years with The Lion King. Sometimes I’m a bird and walk through the audience. I love that. I can see that the audience loves what I’m doing. I don’t just want to go through the motions of it.
DD: What happens to you when you’re on stage?
MA: When I hit it as Effie White, I am Effie White. It happens when I put on the costume. Knowing the things that will allow you to go all the way there – it takes practice. There are back things I have to do. When you see me onstage, Moya doesn’t exist anymore. By the time I sing, Heavy Heavy, I’m in so deep it takes 20 minutes to come back to normal. I have to be escorted to my room. I take a nap to prepare myself for Act 2. I couldn’t even tell you my name. If you can’t go there as an actress – you can’t play this role. You can’t fake it. I can’t act like I’m acting.
DD: What is your process/ritual for preparing to go on stage?
MA: I have lots. I start back at home. I’m a Humidifier-holic. I have multiple humidifiers. I use my personal steamer before going onstage. I use it throughout the show. Once I leave the show I don’t speak until I do the show the next night. I go to bed, get up - don’t speak. I have to eat. Can’t sing without eating. I stay bundled up. I keep my throat covered. I save everything I have for the stage.
Moya Angela, Jasmin Richardson, Brittney Johnson and David LaMarr star in the LA MIRADA THEATRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS & McCOY RIGBY ENTERTAINMENT production of "DREAMGIRLS" - Directed and choreographed by Robert Longbottom.
PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Lamont
DD: Can you live without music?
MA: NO! I can not. When I do a show like this I don’t listen to much music, I like to stay in the zone. I can’t – at ALL, live without music! Music and the gift of song is truly a gift. If music was illegal, just take me straight to jail.
DD: When you’re not acting, what are some hobbies, interests, etc.?
MA: I read, I listen to audio books, watch HGTV and other home improvement shows. I also teach. I love to travel.
DD: What is it about theater?
MA: It’s raw. It is what it is. You can’t sugarcoat it or hide it. The other day we got geared up for the show and something electrical happened and all the panels blacked out. That’s live theater. We couldn’t do the show that night, but that’s how it is. I have to remember that each night I’m doing the show, but it’s brand new for the person in the audience.
DD: What did you expect from Hollywood and what did you get?
MA: I’ve gotten way more than I expected. I knew I could sing and dance and that I could teach. I don’t take it for granted. I’m appreciative. When I first started, I wasn’t that good.
DD: Was there a Plan B?
MA: Plan B was always teaching for me. My mentor can’t sing at all, but she taught me how to sing.
DD: What’s next for you?
MA: I don’t even know and I’m excited that I don’t know. I’m on that ledge of trying to take my career to the next level. I would love to record an album and expand who I am more. Not sure what’s next, but I know whatever it is – it will be awesome.
The cast of Dreamgirls includes: Moya Angela as Effie, Jasmin Richardson as Deena, Brittney Johnson as Lorrell, Danielle Truitt as Michelle, David LaMarr as Jimmy, Scott People as Curtis, John Devereaux as C.C., Lorenzo Hughes as Marty and the ensemble features: Brandon Burks, Andre Darnell Myers, Davon Williams, Dedrick Bonner, Chavis Humphrey, Eran Scoggins, Trance Thompson, Remmie Bourgeois, Miah Blake, Liisi LaFontaine, Loreigna Sinclair, Fatima El-Bashir, Jennifer Akabue and Fay James.
Dreamgirls, Valley Performing Arts Center, located on the campus of California State University, Northridge (CSUN), 18111 Nordhoff Street Northridge, CA 91330-8448, at the corner of Nordhoff and Lindley; May 6-8; ValleyPerformingArtsCenter.org, or (818) 677-3000.