Dreamgirls – Savoy Theatre

Amber Riley in Dreamgirls at the Savoy Theatre (2). Credit Brinkhoff & Mögenburg

Amber Riley in Dreamgirls at the Savoy Theatre, London. Picture: Brinkhoff & Mögenburg

Dreamgirls continues at the Savoy Theatre, London.

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Dreamgirls first debuted on Broadway in 1981 and after a long 35-year wait, it finally has its London debut.

As fans of the show will already know, the book throws the spotlight on the Dreamettes, a young, ambitious singing trio taken on by a former Cadillac salesman and turned into a successful girl group.

Influenced by the history of Motown, especially groups like The Supremes, Act I mostly focuses on the sparkle that comes with showbiz, but Act II gives a glimpse into the aspects of fame that stars would prefer to keep out of the public eye.

The show takes place in the mid-20th century when musical styles such as soul, blues and jazz were sidelined and considered ‘race music’. Popular numbers by black singers often had versions of their songs made for an almost exclusively white pop market.

When Curtis, the Dreamettes’ manager, wants to break the pop charts, he pushes Effie’s powerful voice to the back to bring forward slender Deena who, he feels, will appear more attractive to white audiences.

Amber Riley has big shoes to fill with the role of Effie having been previously played by powerhouse actress/singers Jennifer Holliday and Jennifer Hudson.

The show really gives due credit to her wonderful voice, with the rest of the onstage action often coming to a standstill so that the whole focus is on Effie.

The standing ovation she receives at the end of ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ cements her place as one memorable Effie White.

In fact, the vocals across the entire cast are completely mesmerising. The other two Dreams, Deena Jones (Liisi LaFontaine) and Lorrell Robinson (Ibinabo Jack) are no back-up singers, but their more gentle characteristics and sensational vocals make the Dreamettes the perfect team.

Curtis Taylor Jr (Joe Aaron Reid) is the greedy, heartless manager only really out for himself and willing to cut out anyone who gets in his way. He leads the cast in the brilliantly choreographed ‘Steppin’ to the Bad Side’ which really highlights his triple threat talents.

Whenever soul singer, Jimmy Early (Adam J. Bernard), is on stage it’s hard not to get swept away by his eccentric behaviour and hypnotised by his moves. C.C, Effie’s brother (Tyrone Huntley), is the group’s songwriter but his vocals are also outstanding.

Audiences are in for a treat as ‘Listen’, a song written for Beyonce in the 2006 film, has been rewritten as a duet for reconciliation between friends.

It would be impossible not to mention the costumes as they really represent the glitz and glamour of the music industry and the sheer amount of changes don’t go unnoticed.

Costume designer Gregg Barnes says the he took inspiration from the story’s setting in the 1960s and 70s, while also making sure that today’s audiences can relate to the designs. Ultimately, he creates a nostalgia for that time, but also makes audience members picture themselves in those outfits today.

It seems that director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw and producer Sonia Friedman are on a winning streak with a multitude of successful shows on both sides of the Atlantic between them.

During ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’, Effie sings: “You’re gonna love me” – and she is not wrong.

Tal Fox

Tickets for Dreamgirls are available HERE.

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