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Jun 11th, 2016
On the West End run in 2016
Whilst the world outside has seemed to rage for most of 2016, we have been blessed in the world of theatre with some truly wonderful shows this year, from the exuberance of Half a Sixpence to the otherworldliness of Lazarus, the joy of School of Rock, the exhilaration of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child and many more in between.
And I'm happy to report that Dreamgirls, the much anticipated London premiere of Henry Krieger & Tom Eyen's 1981 musical, does not just follow that trend but ups the ante to stratospheric heights. It is a masterclass in the biographical musical, a glittering and breathless adventure that keeps you hanging on until the very last second, eager to absorb all of the genius and talent showcased.
Loosely based on the story of The Supremes, Dreamgirls follows the fortunes of The Dreams, a singing trio who hit the big time after being discovered by the smooth-talking Curtis Taylor Jr., a Berry Gordy Jr impresario type who sees dollars in his eyes when he looks at his protegees. Hitting the touring circuit alongside Jimmy Early, a marvelously snake-hipped James Brown alike (props to Adam J. Bernard for carrying it off perfectly) the girls, Effie White (Amber Riley), Deena Jones (Liisi LaFontaine) and Lorelle Robinson (Ibinabo Jack), rapidly rise up the charts, becoming the figureheads of a new sound, upsetting the mostly white charts. As showbiz is want to do, they find their once strong friendship shattered when Deena (the Dreams' very own Diana Ross) replaces Effie as lead singer at Curtis' command. Effie flounders as the group goes on, but nothing can keep that voice down. And what a voice it is.
Though a 'based on' show, Dreamgirls doesn't rely on the tricks of most tuners, a jukebox it ain't. Instead, Eyen and Kreiger have created a wholly original score that evokes the funk of James Brown, the joy of Jackie Wilson and the verve of Motown with ease, intertwined with actual showstopping anthems* that have gone on to find a life of their own outside the musical. But the secret weapon here is undoubtedly Riley, an excellent actress, and even better singer. Her Effie is funny and sometimes frustrating, yet her stubbornness is forgiven by the audience when she delivers her emotionally charged rendition of 'And I am Telling You...' with a fierceness and tenderness that earned her a standing ovation at the interval, something I have never seen before in the West End, nor audiences rushing so fervently back to their seats for round two in the second half.
Where Riley leads, the cast follows, with not a weak performance among them. Liisi LaFontaine as Deena is adorable whilst Joe Aaron Reid's Curtis Taylor Jr. is sly yet charming. The ensemble delivers Director and Choreographer Casey Nicholaw's (Book of Mormon) steps with ease, in a set as studded with Swarovski crystals as the rapidly changing costumes.
Truly one of the best things on in London at the moment, if you want to have the most astounding two hours in the theatre. Go, I promise you're gonna love it!
*there were three standing ovations before the final curtain fell
View our show pages for more information about Dreamgirls, Edinburgh Playhouse Theatre.
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