At the Savoy theatre, until 6th May 2017
NOMINATED FOR BEST NEW MUSICAL, OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN MUSIC (HENRY KRIEGER), BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL (AMBER RILEY) AND BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MUSICAL (ADAM J BERNARD) – OLIVIER AWARDS 2017
I saw Dream Girls before Christmas and the sparkle of the Broadway musical’s UK premiere seems an equally suitable antidote to any 2017 final dregs of winter gloom. The glitter and gleam of the onstage dresses, suits, superstar smiles, stage curtains and dancing lights combined with the beauty of the Savoy theatre are visually delighting and a treat for my magpie eye (thank you set designer Tim Hatley and Gregg Barnes for the costumes). What really adds the true sparkle of course are the musical performances. Those familiar with the 2006 film adaptation, starring Jennifer Hudson as Effie and Beyonce as Deena, will be tapping their feet along as we flit from dressing rooms to stages in an ever energetic dash to stardom. What started as a Broadway show 35 years ago is I think overdue a turn at the West End.
Glee graduate Amber Riley is stunning as Effie, her vocals effortlessly, powerfully brilliant. Together with Liisi LaFontaine as Deena and Ibinabo Jack as Lorrell they make up the trio of aspiring music stars, thought to be based on Diana Ross and The Supremes. Adam J Bernard as Jimmy throws in comic quips While Tyrone Huntley offers a helping of family sincerity as C. C. White.
Interpretations vary from the film. Personally I was initially thrown by the new take on Listen, which is significantly altered from Beyonce’s version written for the film. This version is my favourite of the soundtrack as the character asserts herself and chooses to find her own way and make her own choices instead of sacrificing them for Curtis’s (played onstage by Joe Aarson Reid) preferences and possessiveness:
“the time has come for my dreams to be heard, They will not be pushed aside and turned, Into your own, all ’cause you won’t listen… I’ve tried and tried, To say what’s on my mind, You should have known, Now I’m done believing you, You don’t know what I’m feeling, I’m more than what, You’ve made of me, I followed the voice, you gave to me, But now I’ve got to find my own”
Although my ears wanted to hear this version it was still possible to enjoy the musical’s reimagining in its own right and context as part of the stageplay. Similarly And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going lacks a little of the defiant attitude of Jennifer Hudson’s version and is at times breathless with a tearful begging desperation which is not quite as satisfying. The promise “you’re going to love me” to her audience and fans however remains a gutsy and entirely accurate assertion.
Casey Nicholaw’s production is full of energy, colour and wonderful noise. The struggle for racial equality in the music business and it’s part within the American black civil rights movement isn’t given much attention, taking a little potential depth away, but this is a feel good, glitzy night out with the girls which will have you humming all the way home.