Musicals don’t come much bigger, bolder or more brilliant than Casey Nicholaw’s dazzling Dreamgirls (Savoy Theatre) which surprisingly has taken 35 years to reach these shores despite being a Tony Award Winner and taking Broadway by storm.
The show transports you to a revolutionary time in American music history and charts the tumultuous journey of a young female singing trio from Chicago, Illinois, who learn the hard lesson that show business is as tough as it is fabulous.
It’s the sixties and the Dreamgirls, led by the Jaunty Effie, enter a New York talent contest. They get spotted by devious car salesman Curtis, who becomes their agent and turns them into backing singers for Jimmy Early, a hyperactive musical icon whose stage antics make James Brown look restrained. Gradually, with great perseverance the group gain stardom but at the cost of their souls, while their talented lead singer Effie, is relegated to the background in favour of picture-perfect Deena.
This lavish and emotionally rick musical depicts fantasies of freedom and the price of success and is built on sharp insights into R&B’s economic realities. Although a fictional group, the Dreamgirls are not-so-loosely inspired by the story of the supremes.
Henry Krieger’s score opts for direct emotiveness rather than subtle sophistication and some of Tom Eyen’s lyrics feel formulaic. Yet the best numbers like the undisrupted hit One Night Only and the great title song Dreamgirls have a blazing energy that’s marvelously conveyed by Nick Finlow’s large band in the pit.
The show’s undoubted star is Amber Riley, formerly of TV’s Glee, who has a powerhouse of a voice, yet is also capable of delicate understatement. Her most gasp-inducing moment comes during the anthem, And I’m Telling You, I’m Not Going, in a performance that is both exhilarating and thrilling and shows the terrible mistake that’s made when, it is implied that she does not have the face for stardom and is sidelined.
Adam Bernard is an athletic and vocally impressive Early, while Joe Aaron Reid’s, Curtis suitably conveys menace and ugly ambition. Liisi LaFontaine makes a charming and elegant Deena and Ibinabo Jack is engaging as the other Dreamette, wholesome truth-teller Lorrell. Tyrone Huntley brings a quiet magnetism to the role of Effie’s songwriting brother CC.
The production which skillfully uses vast mobile banks of light to establish the different locations, also boasts gorgeous costumes and tight choreography to make an unforgettable impression.
This is a gold-etched triumph, a show that’s exciting, entertaining and moving, and one that brought a packed auditorium to its feet for a standing ovation.
Playing at the Savoy Theatre until 6 May 2017
SeatPlan is a free online accessibility guide offering information on ease of access and facilities for people with disabilities, older people and those who have reduced mobility.Last modified: January 13, 2017