"Dreamgirls" tells the story of the rise to fame of three friends -- Effie, Lorrell, and Deena -- who form an R&B group in the 1960s. The touring production will come to the Luther F. Carson Four Rivers Center this Saturday and Sunday.
Like many young girls, Paducah native Phyllis Maclin dreamed of being a star.
“I, too, was one of those little girls standing in front of a mirror holding a brush, imagining that was my microphone,” Maclin said.
The dream never died for Maclin. Even after she received her bachelor of science degree in communication from Western Kentucky University, Maclin couldn’t get the idea of performing professionally out of her head.
“I didn’t tell many friends or close family members I even wanted to pursue a theatrical career,” she said. She worried that they would advise her to take a more traditional route, living a dull, but content lifestyle.
Maclin began auditioning for local productions in Richmond, Va., and made up her mind to move to Brooklyn at the age of 27 to follow her ambitions.
The work paid off, earning Maclin a part as an understudy for the role of Deena Jones in “Dreamgirls.” The show follows the rise to stardom of three friends — lead singer Effie White, Lorrell Robinson, and Jones — who form a successful R&B group in the 1960s.
Maclin’s eight-week run in the off-Broadway production marked the beginning of a promising career. After the production, she auditioned for Beverly Lee, an original member of the 1960s girl group The Shirelles — one of the groups on which “Dreamgirls” is based — and won the gig.
Maclin said her experience in show business was decidedly less glamorous than one would think. She recalled life with the Shirelles as organized and controlled, and said the group set itself apart by its work ethic rather than its star power.
“I watched a biopic video of the Shirelles ... and noticed that the group is billed as the original Dreamgirls. I guess it never occurred to me that I was touring with legends, because they were regular people who happened to sing for a living,” she said.
Maclin was on her way up, with performances that garnered reviews from critics at The New York Times, when a family matter brought her back to Paducah. Now vice president of Paducah Housing Services Inc., Maclin says she doesn’t regret her choice to come home.
“Returning to Paducah to become my father’s caregiver was the best move I could have ever made,” she said.
Maclin now uses the lessons she learned in her performance career to instruct business entrepreneurs through Murray State University’s Regional Business and Innovation Center.
“In selling and marketing yourself and branding your own personal image ... you’re acting,” she said. “You’re working your craft, continually making it better. That’s what I teach and inspire others to do, in any encounter.”
Maclin admitted she sometimes misses life in the spotlight, but she won’t be attending this weekend’s production of Dreamgirls out of nostalgia.
“I view it as good theater. I love good, live musical theater,” she said.
Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641 or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.
Want to go?
Where: The Luther F. Carson Four Rivers Center, 100 Kentucky Ave.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets are available by calling the Carson Center box office at 270-450-4444, or online at www.thecarsoncenter.org.