DREAMGIRLS – West End

In London theatre, Musicals, Opinion, Reviews by Shanine SalmonLeave a Comment

Savoy Theatre, London

Thirty-five years in the waiting, Dreamgirls has arrived in the West End. Charting the rise of the Dreamettes, (later the Dreams) an American R&B girl group in the 1960s, Henry Krieger (music) and Tom Eyen’s (book & lyrics) story bears more than a passing similarity to the real-life story of The Supremes. The group’s lead singer, Effie (Amber Riley) is relegated to backing vocals to make way for Deena (Liisi LaFontaine) her softer voice and lighter skintone being more palatable to the lucrative white audience the band is chasing.

Get all social media (& show pics) for DREAMGIRLS & its cast on www.stagefaves.com

Get all social media (& show pics) for DREAMGIRLS & its cast on www.stagefaves.com

Much has, and will, be written about Riley’s performance, specifically her vocals, and rightly so. But this is no one-woman show. Director Casey Nicholaw has assembled a supremely (geddit) talented cast showcasing some of our best actors of colour. LaFontaine and Ibinabo Jack more than hold their own as the other two Dreams, Joe Aaron Reid oozes charm as the scheming Curtis, and Adam J Bernard delights in the role of Jimmy Early, managing to channel James Brown so well you’d think there was a Ouija board in his dressing room.

But above all this is Effie’s story, and Amber Riley knocks it out of the park with a superhuman vocal. Part musical instrument, part nuclear weapon, it turns on a dime from softly melismatic to soaringly defiant. Her Act One closer, And I Am Telling You, blazes a shockwave into every corner of the auditorium. Simply put, it could not be better sung.

If the rest of the score fails to match the memorable heights of And I Am Telling You, it still manages to conjure up the era with bullseye accuracy. As does the set, a set of lighting towers which evoke all of the show’s setpieces surprisingly well. The costumes are a river of Swarovski-studded splendour. And you could tell the whole story using the wigs alone.

Where the show falls short is in the telling. The storyline is roughly sketched and told too sparely, hurtling through most of the plot without enough breathing room. There’s also little on display in the way of nuance or depth, but in many ways it doesn’t matter. The big draw here is Riley. Dreamgirls is ultimately a testament to the power of the human voice. For all the glitz and glamour on offer, the defining image in the show is a single woman, refusing to go quietly.

 

Shanine Salmon on RssShanine Salmon on Twitter
Shanine Salmon
Shanine Salmon was a latecomer to theatre after being seduced by the National Theatre's £5 entry pass tickets and a slight obsession with Alex Jennings. She is sadly no longer eligible for 16-25 theatre tickets but she continues to abuse under 30 offers. There was a market for bringing awareness that London theatre was affordable in an era of £100+ West End tickets – Shanine’s blog, View from the Cheap Seat, launched in April 2016, focuses on productions and theatres that have tickets available for £20 and under. She is also quite opinionated and has views on diversity, pricing, theatre seats and nudity on stage. Her interests include Rocky Horror, gaming, theatre (of course) and she also has her own Etsy shop. Shanine tweets at @Braintree_.
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Shanine Salmon on RssShanine Salmon on Twitter
Shanine Salmon
Shanine Salmon was a latecomer to theatre after being seduced by the National Theatre's £5 entry pass tickets and a slight obsession with Alex Jennings. She is sadly no longer eligible for 16-25 theatre tickets but she continues to abuse under 30 offers. There was a market for bringing awareness that London theatre was affordable in an era of £100+ West End tickets – Shanine’s blog, View from the Cheap Seat, launched in April 2016, focuses on productions and theatres that have tickets available for £20 and under. She is also quite opinionated and has views on diversity, pricing, theatre seats and nudity on stage. Her interests include Rocky Horror, gaming, theatre (of course) and she also has her own Etsy shop. Shanine tweets at @Braintree_.

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