Book/Lyrics: Tom Eyen
Music: Henry Krieger
Director: Casey Nicholaw
The shimmery glow of the Liverpool Empire Theatre shone in rainy Liverpool upon the opening night of the Broadway classic Dreamgirls. Queues rounded the corner to see the iconically classic story of the trials and tribulations of the beginning of Motown, fictionally brought to life.
As the gold curtains lift, you are thrusted onto the stage of Detroit’s Apollo theatre in the midst of a talent show for African-American hopefuls. The narrative of Dreamgirls focuses on the origins of Black music becoming mainstream in 1960s America, which would become a worldwide sensation. The production highlights many facets of the revolution of Motown and its influences on the world, while also revealing the struggles of Black artists becoming famous in a segregated America.
The innovative staging for Dreamgirls cannot be faulted. As the point of view changes through all of the scenes, the production utilises the audience to become an interactive feature for the show; viewing the acts as if they were performing a concert not a musical. The use of stage direction then takes the audience “backstage” to reveal the real narrative of dirty dealings and arguments between acts and managers.
Director Casey Nicholaw does an excellent job bringing this classic Broadway show to life in the UK. Though, the set design has its ups and downs throughout the performance. With large movable panels set across the stage, choreography and subtleties from characters can get easily lost behind them. Alternatively, the sheer amount of curtains and backdrops used to convey different venues is astonishing and works brilliantly, with honourable mention to the gaudy glitter wall for the white-washed version of ‘Cadillac Car‘.
There is no word to describe the amount of talent that is amongst the cast. Each and every performer metaphorically taking centre stage in the show with their individual performances. Nicole Raquel Dennis’s performance of Effie White receives many standing ovations throughout the night with a ridiculously powerful performance with an equally powerful voice, especially for the show’s most famous song ‘And I Am Telling You’ which forces the audience to their feet.
Brandon Lee Sears as Jimmy Early steals the show with his charismatic performance. Interacting with the audience and making the character his own with an impressive number of splits, Sears personifies the genre of Soul music. Holly Liburd’s last-minute stand-in performance of Deena Jones is phenomenal. Presenting the dichotomy between Effie and Deena, Liburd’s Deena is soft and delicate with dynamic vocals. While Lorell Robinson played by Paige Peddie gives us terrific comic relief with magnificent vocals, with her quirky yet compelling performance.
Curtis Taylor Jr’s character is expertly played by Matt Mills, portraying the narrative’s villain through an anger-ridden performance conveyed with passion and control. Leading the pack with ‘Steppin’ to the Bad Side‘, his domineering presence drives his performance home, capturing the influence and power of the character.
Expect to have your hairs raised and tear ducts wiped as the vocals will have you shaken by the end of Act One. Dreamgirls is a definite must-see if you appreciate the eras of Soul, Motown and Disco. Longtime fans of the production will be remiss to skip this rendition – especially as this is the final week of the UK Tour.
Runs until 7 January 2023.