This new touring production of the 1981 musical began its life last fall at Harlem’s Apollo Theater. Appropriately enough, the legendary Apollo is where the fictional story, about the trials and tribulations of a Supremes-like girl group set against the changing musical landscape of the 1960s and ’70s, begins and ends. You might try to find a similar frisson in the tour’s Chicago stop, as the show that uses the “Cadillac Car” as a symbol of success plays the Cadillac Palace. But the production doesn’t quite live up to the brand that popularized the V8 engine: It’s not firing on all cylinders.
It’s an exciting ride, to be sure. Longbottom’s cast achieves mostly solid, sometimes stellar musical performances. Newcomer Angela has the killer pipes to step into the shoes previously worn by Jennifers Holliday and Hudson, closing the first act with a worthy “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” And onetime Black Ensemble Theater regular Gregory is electrifying as James “Thunder” Early, the show’s James Brown stand-in. But the production highlights the weaknesses of Eyen’s book (nonmusical scenes drag), and Longbottom seems interested only in the showbiz glitz and not in the parallel story of the integration of popular music, which here feels like an afterthought. Robin Wagner’s mobile LED panels are an elegant solution to the backstage/onstage conundrum, though video by Howard Werner/Lightswitch tends to cheese up an otherwise attractive staging. At least Krieger’s pastiche score still handles like a dream.