7 In Your Neighborhood: Broadway to Bronzeville

March 11, 2012 4:49:58 AM PDT
First they were Sheryl Lee Ralph, Loretta Devine and Jennifer Holliday. Then, they were Beyonce Knowles, Anika Noni Rose and Chicago's own Jennifer Hudson. Now, a new set of "Dreamgirls" is lighting up a Chicago stage.

In Saturday's "ABC7 In Your Neighborhood segment," we head to the South Side to get a glimpse of what promises to be the first in a series of productions billed as "Broadway to Bronzeville."

At the Harold Washington Cultural Center, Opal Staples-Nesbitt, Ta-Tynisa Wilson and China Stewart are taking their turns as the legendary Dreamgirls.

"It gets a little cumbersome because people will say, 'I've seen the movie, so you're Beyonce' and I'll say no, I'm not Beyonce," said Staples-Nesbitt with a laugh. "But it is big shoes to fill.

"I'm really excited because it's new for me," Wilson said. "I'm learning a lot. I'm meeting a lot of great people and I'm having fun."

For the 19-year-old Stewart, who grew up on the city's South East Side, the chance to play "Effie" to a hometown crowd is a dream come true.

"I've auditioned for American Idol, The Voice, you know people were just looking for a certain thing and I was kind of glad that when I came to audition for Dreamgirls that I didn't have to try to be somebody that I wasn't," Stewart said. "What I had was what was needed.

The play is being directed by John Ruffin, a native of the south suburbs who typically produces inspirational stage plays.

"We added dancers to it because there's so much talent here in Chicago," Ruffin said. "I wanted to encompass all of that in one great production."

Ruffin says partnering with the Harold Washington Cultural Center was an easy decision since they share common goals.

"They want talent to birth out of this building," Ruffin said. "That's what it was built for, so young people can see that it doesn't die with our ancestors but it's still going in our generation and for generations to come."

Jimalita Tillman, the daughter of former Ald. Dorothy Tillman, runs the center. Though it is facing foreclosure and the city council has voted to allow the Chicago City Colleges to take over the center for its performing arts programs, Tillman points to a recording studio, computer lab and a drill team program as examples of why the cultural center should remain open for community use.

"We've created a new business model by producing our own in-house shows to generate revenue to operate the building," Tillman said.

Tillman is optimistic that this production will help spark a financial revival.

"This is a big deal because getting the licensing from New York was not an easy task, but it got us to bring our A-game and as we move forward with the rest of our shows we'll have a lot more to offer with our Broadway to Bronzeville series," Tillman said.

You can catch "Dreamgirls" every Saturday and Sunday of this month. There will also be a special show on April 16th in celebration of the late Mayor Washington's birthday. For more information, visit http://www.hwccchicago.org