Book/Lyrics: Tom Eyan
Music: Henry Krieger
Director: Casey Nicholaw
You would think it would be pretty impossible to try and match a cast that has had Jennifer Hudson, Beyoncé, Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy in starring roles. But, wow, do the touring cast of Dreamgirls show what they are made of on their latest stop at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens. While a slow start, this is a show that definitely builds momentum and has you converted by that final curtain call.
Hardcore fans will already know the story – but this is by no means just for them. Following The Dreams Effie (Nicole Raquel Dennis), Deena Jones (Natalie Kassanga) and Lorrell Robinson (Paige Peddie), this story is about a trio who find themselves in the middle of show business in the 1960s. From young innocent girls entering a talent contest, to becoming the backing singers of Jimmy Early (Brandon Lee-Sears), to making it as hugely successful stars, you see it all – and despite the efforts of the callous Curtis Taylor Jnr (Christopher Gopaul) and plot twists along the way, they get to their final performance as they should – united, strong and together as sisters.
Director Casey Nicholaw has done an excellent job of building the story and pace of the show, but what that does mean is that until the very end of the first act (around an hour an a quarter), when Effie performs And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going, the production is good, but not showstopping.
There are a few other issues as well. Again, especially in the first half, the vocals can sometimes be overshadowed by the live music. This could be a specific venue issue and one that could be quickly resolved by playing around with levels a little more. There are also one too many sung conversational moments. The “I am walking across the stage and I am going to sing any sentence I can for dramatic effect” kind of music, which can create very unforgettable moments and would be better off said than sung – it’s better in the second half when used more for sassy or comedic purposes. The set is blander than you would expect, but expertly used to create some great onstage/backstage moments, and it is brought to life by a superb lighting design courtesy of Hugh Vanstone.
All that said, the cast really do turn it round from the moment Effie steps into that limelight properly. These are some of the best vocals you are ever going to hear and Dennis, especially, could stand on that stage solo and sell out crowds – watch this space. It’s the numbers you expect that really blow you away – Listen, I Am Changing and One Night Only – but they do it so hard it raises the hairs on your arms. The supporting girls do a superb job, Robinson especially adding real value with her comedic flair, and Lee-Sears is cast perfectly as the raucous R&B sensation.
So while a slow starter, the second act promises to have you in the palm of its hands. For “one night only”, Dreamgirls will definitely earn your applause, it just takes a little too long to get there.
Runs until 5 November 2022.