Book and Lyrics: Tom Eyen
Composition: Henry Kreiger
Direction and Choreography: Casey Nicholaw
Everyone has a dream. For some, it’s a shiny new Cadillac, for others it’s something more simplistic; approval – and for some, this form of acceptance manifests as the desire we all strive for secretly – fame. Some for the money and influence, others for the self-respect and acknowledgement of talent. Dreamgirls charters this pursuit, the various strifes associated while trudging through the glitz and sparkle of showbiz and down into the seedier underbelly of maintaining this fame.
Champion of Broadway, which has weaved itself into the foundations of contemporary musical theatre, Tom Eyen’s Dreamgirls has offered us some of the industry’s most iconic numbers and sequences. Centred around the Showbiz aspirations and successes of R & B stars through history – chiefly The Supremes, Jackie Wilson & The Shirelles – the story follows three young girls as they embark on that big ol’ dream to become music superstars.
The trio make an engaging group, not only as comfortable stars with one another as friends, but the accompanying harmonies make the trio fine company. With Nicole Raquel Dennis, Natalie Kassanga and Paige Peddie taking the principal roles of Effie, Deena, and Lorrell, the recent touring production is in as safe a set of hands as its original Broadway opening. Starting as the backup singers for the energised and chaotic Jimmy Early (Brandon Lee Steers), the Dreamettes begin their journey as sisters, together through it all, but once they achieve their big break, their chance at the stars, the re-named Dreams under the management of Curtis find themselves at a crossroads of integrity and talent, over marketability and potential.
Originally the lead, Effie finds herself on the back foot to Deena given her more ‘aesthetic marketability’ with audiences, much to her ire. It inevitably leads to a disjoint among the group – and Effie has no choice but to make it on her own after being ousted from the group, replaced, forgotten and damaged by her once lover Curtis. Standing ovations are the obvious visual indicator of the appreciation, respect, and enjoyment of the crowds – and in a near ten-year endeavour of reviewing, rarely, if ever, has a standing ovation erupted in the middle of Act one following the outing of a solo performance.
But that’s the measure of expertise Nicole Raquel Dennis commands in her role of Effie White, a legend onstage, unquestionable in their resolve and sterling performance, the absolute gem and integrity of Dennis are that she never overshadows, no performance is lesser within her realm. Balanced, everyone onstage is an equal – from ensemble cast to principal leads, a wonderful achievement given the production’s subject matter.
Performers to the bones, Kassanga and Peddie are effortless in their natural charisma and talents – Kassanga is a diamond on stage, effortlessly carrying a sincerity that grows into an emboldened and strong woman, without resorting to cheap theatrical tactics or shortcuts. While Peddie has the audience in the palm of her confident hands. Both have natural chemistry with the entire cast, Peddie being a match for the torrent of unflinching energy and unbound brilliance of Steers Jimmy. man for whom no cheer is loud enough, no single performance will ever be the same, and for who sanity is a mundane state of affair.
But for as powerfully funny and enjoyable as the production is, there is an undercurrent of meticulous stagecraft and clever juxtaposition at work. The changing dynamic of music, to accommodate richer (whiter) audiences, and the theatre this may pose to those who desire nothing more to stay true to the music sits in the foundations of the writing – mingling the lyrics and Krieger’s composition directly into the storytelling.
At the risk of gushing with unfiltered praise – everything about Dream Girls is well, a dream come true. From the dynamic lighting on the stage to perfection, to the bombastic and untapped raw energy on display, trickling down to the finesse and delicacy of some of the industries’ prime vocalists – Dream Girls is a paramount of stage talent, an unmissable experience and a celebration of culture, voice, dance and soul. It’s got empowerment, it’s got moxie and above all else – it’s got, soul.
Runs at the Edinburgh Playhouse until 16 April 2022 | Image: Matt Crockett