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In the all-Black cast of Theatre Denton’s ‘Dreamgirls,’ there’s also a ‘pants role’

Denton Record-Chronicle

The musical Dreamgirls premiered on Broadway in 1981. It was adapted into a movie in 2006. Now, the story of Effie, Deena and Lorrell is right here in Denton.

Theatre Denton’s production of Dreamgirls will see its final performances this weekend at the Campus Theater. Tickets are still available for for Friday and Saturday evening and a matinee show Sunday.

The local production has garnered attention for the unconventional casting of actor Micaela Workman as Jimmy “Thunder” Early.

“When I saw Micaela audition, I knew that she was Jimmy,” director Elizabeth Moose said. “She embodied the spirit of who Jimmy is.”

Moose explained that “pants roles” — where female actresses play male characters — were common in opera productions throughout history. Moose said she was open to actors of any gender playing any role as long as they were right for the part.

Workman, though, faced many challenges when preparing for this role. Not only was this the first time she had played a male character, but she was cast in the role of Jimmy only three weeks before the show opened.

“I really did not think people were going to resonate with my Jimmy,” Workman said. “But I feel like my character has touched a lot of people. And the show has touched a lot of people.”

She said she also challenged herself as an actor because she usually plays more dramatic roles, but Jimmy is a more comedic character. Plus, in the show, Jimmy has an affair with Lorrell Robinson, played by Sashaine Walter.

An intimacy director worked with the two women to find a comfortable way to portray this relationship. Moose said this is common practice for any Theatre Denton production that involves some sort of intimacy or romance.

“[Walter is] a married woman, and I don’t swing that way either,” Workman said. “So I told her, ‘Whatever you’re comfortable with, I’m comfortable with.’”

Workman said that once the show opened, she felt more comfortable with her own portrayal of the character and with the portrayal of Jimmy and Lorrell’s relationship.

She said this role has allowed her to get in touch with her masculine side.

“I feel like everybody has a masculine aspect and a feminine aspect, whether you’re a man or a woman,” Workman said.

Workman also faced many personal challenges before her role in this production. She started singing and taking dance classes at a young age, thanks to encouragement from her mother. Although her mother was an actor, and even met Workman’s father while working in community theater, Workman never got to see her perform. Her mother had breast cancer and died when young Micaela was only 12.

A few years later, while living with her aunt and uncle, she developed her own connection to theater.

“I did theater all through high school and I fell in love with it,” she said. “I felt like it was a way for me to stay connected to my mom. It felt like a way for me to escape the things that I was going through at the time.”

Workman graduated from the University of North Texas in 2019 and was in Theatre Denton’s production of the musical Ragtime that year. Just three weeks after she graduated, her father died. Almost a year later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and theaters shut down.

“Am I not supposed to act?” she asked herself then.

She decided to become a teacher and still teaches middle school theater with Uplift Education. Then, last October, her uncle died from prostate cancer. This pushed her to dive into acting again.

“Something clicked in me,” Workman said. She thought to herself, “Something’s got to change. You do not want to look back 10 years from now and regret not trying [to be an actor] again.”

She auditioned for Dreamgirls when some of the principal roles were recast. She said was surprised when she was offered the role of Jimmy, but she said yes.

“For me to go through all of these tribulations from a young age, I really thought [my acting career] was over,” she said. “Ever since opening night, the support and praise that I’ve been getting from people I know and people that I don’t know has really put me in a space where I’m like, ‘Girl, you’ve got to stop doubting yourself.’”

Along with Workman’s portrayal of Jimmy, another noteworthy aspect of this production is that it features an all-Black cast. Moose said that it has been “a number of years” since a Denton community theater show had an all-Black cast.

“There’s lots of representation at all levels, onstage and in the production crew,” Moose said. “[We are] letting people know that those things are possible for people of color by showing that representation.”

In fact, according to Theatre Denton managing director Mike Barrow, prioritizing diversity is a goal for the theater company.

“Theatre Denton has been actively working on our diversity and inclusion for several years,” he said. “This is one of those titles that came up as something that could possibly further that mission for us. It’s such a great show. I don’t think it was very hard for everybody to decide that this was a show that we wanted and needed to do.”

Workman said people should come out and see the show not only to support the cast, but also to support community theater and enjoy the story of Dreamgirls.

“You’re going to laugh,” she said. “You may cry. And you might want to get out of your seat and start dancing with Jimmy.”