Reviewer: Mark Clegg
Musical theatre fans on both sides of the Atlantic often need to have patience. In an age when cinema releases and TV shows can be released and broadcast simultaneously all over the world, musicals take time to travel across the pond. In the case of Matilda the Musical, Broadway had to wait two years after its West End premiere to see it. Likewise, London audiences were two years behind New York for The Book of Mormon and three years for Wicked. However, all of these pale into comparison to Dreamgirls which is releasing the soundtrack of its original London production 26 years after it debuted on Broadway.
Happily, the intervening quarter of a century has simply made Dreamgirls more relevant and recognisable. Widely believed to have been written as a thinly disguised biography of Diana Ross and The Supremes (forever denied by the creators but too close to real events to ignore), the tale of the backstage jealousies, infighting and politics of a singing group is now part of the fabric of modern life thanks to reality TV shows, social media and tabloid reporting. That’s not to say that the impact of the story is lessened, and judging by the recording this new production has a very strong and able cast to carry the dramatic, often melodramatic action.
Amber Riley from TV’s Glee plays Effie and her powerful vocals and brassy attitude are perfect for the role. Most of the best songs belong to this character and Riley delivers them with power and emotion including One Night Only, I’m Changing and the show’s big breakout number And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going. Liisi LaFontaine and Asmeret Ghebremichael make equally big impressions as Deena and Lorrell: vocally impressive in their solo numbers, their voices also blend beautifully when they join together as the group. Elsewhere the male characters are also portrayed brilliantly with Joe Aaron Reid as Curtis, Adam J Bernard as Jimmy Early and Tyrone Huntley as C.C.
As is becoming increasingly common, this soundtrack is a recording of a live show. While often seemingly just a way to save money on recording studios, Dreamgirls lends itself very well to this with the enthusiastic audience’s reactions adding to the atmosphere as well as acting as a dramatic presence during the ‘onstage’ numbers.
This double CD seems to offer the ultimate recording of the score and is a must for fans and completists. However those unfamiliar with the show may find it overwhelming and at times over-long, with many tracks running at over five minutes and incorporating portions of sung dialogue. These sections are by far the least successful part of the soundtrack. No doubt they are excellent and compelling within the drama but they are not well written enough to be interesting without visuals and full context, and here only get in the way of the tunes.
Despite that, the performances and musicians here are superb and the whole thing positively fizzes with excitement. As a souvenir of the show, this CD is probably a perfect reminder of a great night out. However for those who just want to sing along to power ballads in the bath, perhaps Sony should consider releasing an edited highlights version
Album available now