IT'S A good thing Julia Carroll McGirt liked "Dreamgirls." Last year, when she was working at Mr. Henry's on Capitol Hill, she used to sing several songs from the Broadway smash, including the show-stopper, "I'm Not Going."

That song turned out to be a show-starter for McGirt, who has become the number-one understudy in the Broadway production of "Dreamgirls"; better yet, she has recently taken over the role that made a star out of Jennifer Holiday. "I had incorporated 'Going' into my show," she recalls, "and somebody heard me singing it in the club and called the director of the show. That's how the whole thing got started. Over the last month I've been doing the role because the lead has been out sick."

McGirt's career on the boards began in October, when the "Dreamgirls" company decided to go on a talent search looking for new Effies and for people to fill slots in their Los Angeles, Chicago and touring companies. "So when it came to Washington, I auditioned, along with quite a few others--it was an open call--and they wanted to use me. It came down to where it was between me and the other girl who actually got the part. At first, they offered me second-understudy in Los Angeles, but I didn't want that, I wanted to be someplace closer to New York. And here I am, in a Broadway show!"

McGirt will come back home for a performance Sunday night at the Wax Museum with her long-time local group, Julia and Co. She'll also be unveiling a new single, "Sugar Samba," recorded here and in New York and a precursor of an album that is in the works. It will feature original material by McGirt and her long-time collaborator, composer-pianist David Ylvisaker.

The Broadway experience has been an education and a half for McGirt, who originally had studied for a career in opera at the prestigious North Carolina School of the Arts, which she attended on a full scholarship. She also studied theatre arts, and when she got out of school, that's where she was able to find work. Ten years ago she moved to Washington to join a boyfriend, and worked with the Black Repertory Dance Company and for the Workshop for Careers in the Arts, "street theater, little things around the city."

She eventually started making a reputation in local clubs, first on Columbia Road at Excalibur, and eventually at Mr. Henry's (which many years ago had provided a home for and given a boost to another Washington singer, Roberta Flack). "Henry's is such a sweet, sweet place. You really become a family. There's such a warmth within the space; people see that and feel that and they continue to come back."

They also came back because of McGirt's inspiring mix of show tunes, jazz, pop, originals and gospel (her father, John McGirt was one of the original Dixie Hummingbirds). "Variety--I think that's what people who come back like, because then they don't get bombarded with too much anything. And I like singing everything. And basically, I think I do a good job singing everything. I'm really trying to get a grasp on the jazz end of it, now, because I really like that style of music."

With the role in "Dreamgirls," McGirt has gone back to studying dance and movement, seeking to expand her theatrical skills. She admits that when she went on as Effie the very first time, "I was scared to death. It's a very hard, demanding role, and it took many people three months to learn the show. But it just came so fast to me, a month and a half, that it was very right when I went on. When they told me, I was a little freaked out, but I knew the show and it was time for me to try it out, to see if I could piece it all together and hold it together in front of the audience."

As for staying with "Dreamgirls," McGirt insists she is "committed as long as my mental health can take it." There has been some talk of her taking over the role, and "if that happened, I would stay for a while. But not as an understudy; it's very frustrating."

The nightclub, she SPOTLIGHT Dreams Come True By Richard Harrington

IT'S A good thing Julia Carroll McGirt liked "Dreamgirls." Last year, when she was working at Mr. Henry's on Capitol Hill, she used to sing several songs from the Broadway smash, including the show-stopper, "I'm Not Going."

That song turned out to be a show-starter for McGirt, who has become the number-one understudy in the Broadway production of "Dreamgirls"; better yet, she has recently taken over the role that made a star out of Jennifer Holiday. "I had incorporated 'Going' into my show," she recalls, "and somebody heard me singing it in the club and called the director of the show. That's how the whole thing got started. Over the last month I've been doing the role because the lead has been out sick."

McGirt's career on the boards began in October, when the "Dreamgirls" company decided to go on a talent search looking for new Effies and for people to fill slots in their Los Angeles, Chicago and touring companies. "So when it came to Washington, I auditioned, along with quite a few others--it was an open call--and they wanted to use me. It came down to where it was between me and the other girl who actually got the part. At first, they offered me second-understudy in Los Angeles, but I didn't want that, I wanted to be someplace closer to New York. And here I am, in a Broadway show!"

McGirt will come back home for a performance Sunday night at the Wax Museum with her long-time local group, Julia and Co. She'll also be unveiling a new single, "Sugar Samba," recorded here and in New York and a precursor of an album that is in the works. It will feature original material by McGirt and her long-time collaborator, composer-pianist David Ylvisaker.

The Broadway experience has been an education and a half for McGirt, who originally had studied for a career in opera at the prestigious North Carolina School of the Arts, which she attended on a full scholarship. She also studied theatre arts, and when she got out of school, that's where she was able to find work. Ten years ago she moved to Washington to join a boyfriend, and worked with the Black Repertory Dance Company and for the Workshop for Careers in the Arts, "street theater, little things around the city."

She eventually started making a reputation in local clubs, first on Columbia Road at Excalibur, and eventually at Mr. Henry's (which many years ago had provided a home for and given a boost to another Washington singer, Roberta Flack). "Henry's is such a sweet, sweet place. You really become a family. There's such a warmth within the space; people see that and feel that and they continue to come back."

They also came back because of McGirt's inspiring mix of show tunes, jazz, pop, originals and gospel (her father, John McGirt was one of the original Dixie Hummingbirds). "Variety--I think that's what people who come back like, because then they don't get bombarded with too much anything. And I like singing everything. And basically, I think I do a good job singing everything. I'm really trying to get a grasp on the jazz end of it, now, because I really like that style of music."

With the role in "Dreamgirls," McGirt has gone back to studying dance and movement, seeking to expand her theatrical skills. She admits that when she went on as Effie the very first time, "I was scared to death. It's a very hard, demanding role, and it took many people three months to learn the show. But it just came so fast to me, a month and a half, that it was very right when I went on. When they told me, I was a little freaked out, but I knew the show and it was time for me to try it out, to see if I could piece it all together and hold it together in front of the audience."

As for staying with "Dreamgirls," McGirt insists she is "committed as long as my mental health can take it." There has been some talk of her taking over the role, and "if that happened, I would stay for a while. But not as an understudy; it's very frustrating."

The nightclub, she adds, is still a preferred workplace. "I love working on the stage, but I prefer a club because I get to do more of what I like doing. In theater, it's programmed, it's the same thing, and you know what you have to do every night. You're singing to people, but not to anyone in particular. I like knowing the people I'm singing to, singing something special to someone. Then you're touching them."