Dreamgirls has got to be one of the most hotly anticipated theatre events of the season; the show has never been performed in the West End before, despite its success in the US and the massively popular film which starred Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce. So you can imagine how over the moon I was to win the Today Tix lottery during its previews; and fortunately it was so worth the hype.
The story of Dreamgirls is loosely based on the story of The Supremes, and follows Effie White (Amber Riley), Deena Jones (Liisi LaFontaine) and Lorrell Robinson (Ibinabo Jack), three young women who are spotted by Curtis Taylor Jr (Joe Aaron Reid) and set for stardom. From being backing singers for James Thunder Early (Adam J Bernard) to a trio in their own right, these fame doesn’t come without heartbreak-especially for Effie.
Whilst Tom Eyen’s book isn’t always the best, especially in the second act (certain characters are forgiven incredibly quickly), the music (by Henry Krieger) and Eyen’s lyrics are all pretty great, and really fit with the era that the musical takes place within. I also really liked how the song ‘Listen’, written for the film, was changed into a pretty great duet in the second act. Casey Nicholaw’s direction is brilliant, and there are some truly insane quick change and amazing lighting (by Hugh Vanstone). Nicholaw’s choreography is also really well delivered by an ensemble who are able to feel far bigger than they actually are.
What truly elevates this from just an good to show to one of the best I’ve seen in ages, are the really great performances. As Curtis, Joe Aaron Reid just about manages to walk the line between being charming and truly awful and as James Thunder Early, Adam Bernard comes close to just walking away with the show in his scenes (and has some of the best costumes). The ensemble also all shine, especially Rohan Richards. The only minor negative is that Lily Frazer, as Michelle Morris, does seem to struggle against some of the larger voices in the show, but she may well have found her feet now.
However, key are obviously the Dreamgirls themselves. As Lorrell, Ibinabo Jack delivers a lot of the shows laugh lines, and has a great voice which is showcased in ‘Ain’t No Party’ brilliantly. Liisi LaFontaine as Deena has a really appropriate ‘pop’ voice, and it was great to see her character development in Act 2, she maybe didn’t seem as comfortable as a diva as perhaps Beyonce was in the film; but I felt like that was accurate as someone who never really longed for the spotlight.
The show’s real star though, is obviously Amber Riley. Whilst I was familiar with her from Glee, that show was obviously auto-tuned within an inch of its life, but Riley’s voice is truly remarkable. As well as knocking her songs out of the park, Riley also really gives Effie (who is a bit of a pain) a real sense of humanity and she’s instantly sympathetic. Her performance of ‘And I’m Telling You’ is phenomenal, frankly award-worthy in itself and is the first time I’ve ever seen a standing ovation mid-show.
I feel like this is going to be a tough ticket to get, but if you can get to the Savoy Theatre you are definitely in for a wonderful night.