Savoy Theatre, London – until 21 October 2017
Dreamgirls is now well settled into the Savoy Theatre and comfortably booking up until the autumn. So for a reviewer with no real interest whatsoever in the TV series Glee or its much lauded star Amber Riley, what better way to assess the show than on the one night in the week when Ms Riley rests her remarkable larynx, with her Effie White played (as advertised) by Broadway diva Marisha Wallace.
The story of Dreamgirls should be well known by now. A fictitious yarn whose roots stretch back to the days of American segregation when soul and rhythm and blues, essentially “black music” (a description taken from the show’s programme notes) were striving to break into the pop charts. A Michigan trio The Dreamettes are backing vocals to R&B star Jimmy Early. Curtis Taylor Jr, an opportunistic manager recognises their potential and lures them away from Early to headline their own act billed as The Dreams. Along the way there’s love, rivalries and jealousies that play out to a backdrop of a ruthlessly cutthroat music business and some sensationally sung songs.
Strip away the music and Tom Eyen’s book is paper thin – it’s Henry Kreiger’s melodies that make the show. Wallace’s closing of the first half with a jaw dropping take on ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ proves a stunner of a powerhouse, that sends the (predominantly female) audience reeling as they totter to the bar for their half time Proseccos.
The show’s other big number is One Night Only – a song that many of today’s kids will have come to know through its X-Factor regularity, even though its chart history dates back to the 1980s – and the three Dreamgirls, along with the ensemble, give it a powerfully polished outing.
Credit where it’s due – Liisi LaFontaine and Ibinabo Jack are superb as Deena and Lorrell, Effie’s partners, Joe Aaron Reid’s Curtis is a pantomime baddy but he holds the stage magnificently. Adam J. Bernard’s Jimmy Early is a groin thrusting lithe limbed delight, while Tyrone Huntley as songwriter C.C. White is, yet again, simply magnificent in his West End presence. Huntley is already riding high in the nation’s musical theatre pantheon – he can only soar further still.
Casey Nicholaw’s direction and choreography oozes imagination, Gregg Barnes costumes are as sexy as they are period-perfect, while in the pit Nick Finlow’s orchestra serve up Kreiger’s score with panache.
Bravo to Sonia Friedman and her co-producers for bringing this Broadway bonanza to London. It’s a great night out!