‘Dreamgirls’ is one of the hottest tickets to grab in London right now. Though its still in previews, the show has been getting acclaim by audiences on social media, and many a standing ovation. It has even been nominated for five WhatsOnStage awards, which is amazing considering that it hasn’t had its official opening night.
I was incredibly lucky to win the TodayTix lottery for the Saturday afternoon, and myself and my flatmate Meg, who had never seen a West End show before (blasphemy!) took our seats front and centre at the Savoy Theatre to see this show be performed in the UK for the very first time.
Featuring the classic songs ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’, ‘I Am Changing’, ‘One Night Only’ and ‘Listen’, DREAMGIRLS follows the journey of a young female singing group from Chicago and will transport you to a revolutionary time in American music history. The trio ‘The Dreams’, must learn the tough lesson that show business and stardom isn’t always as glamorous as it seems.
The entire production focuses on music. It’s not an entirely sung-through musical, but the music underscores the entire performance and we hear how music has changed throughout the eras – Motown, RnB, Soul, and Disco are just some of the genres we hear. Sitting directly behind the band pit is certainly an experience, and I begin to acknowledge how much work the band puts in to
The voices which couple this music are phenomenal, and I have to pinch myself when watching to remind myself that these are real people on stage actually singing – this is their raw talent.
And my goodness they shine as much as the glittery set behind them.
Amber Riley as Effie White certainly gives Jennifer Hudson a run for her money. Her voice is an absolute powerhouse, from her standing ovation-inducing “And I am Telling You” which closes the first act to just screaming “no”, you can feel every single emotion from her: she is embodying all of Effie’s struggles and pouring her heart out on stage. From my close view, I can see tears in her eyes at various moments. She nails every single song, putting her all into every one – no matter how long or short they are. Her “One Night Only” and “I Am Changing” are also fantastic, and both gave me chills in what was a pretty warm theatre.
Not only is her voice phenomenal, but her acting skills are second to none. She’s sassy and cheeky, but also serious when needs to be. Liisi LaFontaine (Deena) comes into her own in the second act when fronting the Dreamgirls. The decision to keep the film-written song ‘Listen’ but changing it to a duet between Effie and Deena is a fantastic one, as it not only sounds beautiful, but exemplifies the whole show’s focus on female power. Seeing both Deena and Lorrell (Ibinabo Jack) leave their lovers in succession was an ultimate moment in strength to watch. Many cheers erupted from the audience, as the women finally got what they always deserved.
That’s not to say the boys faded into the background. Joe Aaron Reid, playing the role of smarmy manager Curtis, has a silky smooth voice, with dance moves to match. I must applaud choreographer Casey Nicholaw for utilising the entire space and cast in his numbers, and evoking the RnB soul. My favourite choreography has to be for “Steppin’ to the Bad Side” which flowed flawlessly from dialogue into dance, and the slickness and synchronicity of the moves are pleasing to watch – I just wanted to get up and dance with them. Adam J Bernard as Jimmy is hilarious and quirky– his delivery of “I Meant You No Harm/Jimmy Got Soul” energises the audience.
The set, designed by Tim Hatley, is minimalist, but also shows the mechanics of the world of performance. Lights revolve around the set, platforms move, and microphones rise up, ready for the performers to take them. Its simplicity is what makes it so visually stunning. The costumes (designed by Gregg Barnes) on the other hand are far from minimalist. Feathers, glitter, sequins, and bright colours are all we see. They move with the performers, and the colour scheme changing from bright to slightly darker subtly indicates the changes the girls have been through. However, the final iconic silver sequined dresses exist to prove that the Dreams – all four of them – are absolute stars.
This show is a must-see for any one at all. As mentioned above, my flatmate who had never seen a West End show before began crying as she was deeply affected by the performance. That’s the power of really great theatre. ‘Dreamgirls’ is a show which is incredibly uplifting and energetic. It’ll have you tapping your toes and humming the infectious melodies on the tube home, but also have you crying. It tells a really important message, too: “All you have to do is dream”.