Writer: Tom Eyen
Director and Choreographer: Casey Nicholaw
Composer: Henry Krieger
Reviewer: Tom Finch
It’s been 35 years since a show that revolutionised musical theatre, Dreamgirls opened on Broadway. Now it’s finally opened in the West End. It was worth the wait.
Loosely based on the meteoric rise of The Supremes, Tom Eyen’s and Henry Krieger’s show charts the rise and falls of a young girl group, The Dreams. The unmistakeable sound of the 60s and 70s is captured perfectly in Krieger’s electrifying score.
As the show opens with three young women who will go on to be The Dreams, Lorelle, Deena and Effy, land a gig performing as backup singers for soul star Jimmy Early, played with irrepressible energy by Adam J. Bernard, who probably has the best moves in town.
There have unlikely been three greater leading ladies in any one show in London. Ibionabo Jack tenderly and hilariously demonstrates the charming naivety of Lorelle before blossoming into a formidable force to be reckoned with as she enters into a relationship Jimmy.
As Deena, Liisi La Fontaine makes a character who can easily come across as unlikeable a tragic figure in a world she doesn’t fully understand. She carries a lot of the lead vocals throughout the show but it is her renditions of the second act showstoppers One night Only and Listen, (originally written for the 2006 movie adaptation here reworked as a duet with Effy) that solidifies her as a bona fide star.
Then there’s Amber Riley, who found fame in the hit TV show Glee, who takes on the role of Effy l. Fans of the show will know she has an extraordinary voice but it’s here that she really gets the chance to show what a gifted actress she is. Her rendition of And I Am Telling You I’m not Going is so wonderfully sad and desperate, sounding as if she was about to burst into tears at any moment while still blowing the roof off The Savoy Theatre. As she makes the journey from narcissistic young diva to a humble singer she displays an extraordinary ability to capture the full emotional truth of every word.
Director and choreographer, Casey Nicholaw has not just lucked out with the star casting though. He has assembled an entire company of gifted performers and he works them hard. This production is one of the slickest around with each scene skilfully bleeding into the next. it’s exhausting just watching it.
Nicholaw also has a creative team who easily match the talents of the cast. Tim Hatley’s ingenious set wisely makes the performers and their voices the stars of the show. Gregg Barnes’ costumes ably follow the fashions of the era and manages to throw in a few surprises which earn their own rounds of applause.
It isn’t often that a show as superlative as this comes around. This production could well go down as the most skilfully crafted, elegantly designed and emotionally engaging musicals of the decade.
Booking until 6 May 2017 | Image: Brinkhoff &Mögenburg