Sometimes, people forget that the ‘biz’ part of showbiz actually stands for business. Because entertainment is a multi-billion-pound business. Sometimes the people on the business side of the industry make a name for themselves – think of Simon Cowell – while their acts rise to fame, become stars, and then disappear from sight, apart from the odd appearance on some celebrity reality show. And this is the world that three young ladies from Chicago are aspiring to join in Dreamgirls which started its UK tour at the New Wimbledon Theatre this week.
1962 and the Apollo Theatre in Harlem is holding its famous Amateur Night talent competition. Whilst the audience is being entertained, backstage is a hive of activity. For a start, the show’s headliner James “Thunder” Early (Brandon Lee Sears) has lost his backing singers, much to the consternation of his manager Marty (Jo Servi). Watching all this kerfuffle is Cadillac salesman Curtis Taylor Jr. (Dom Hartley-Harris), a man with Ambitions. Since Early won’t perform without backing singers, Marti is dispatched to find some. While he does the Dreamettes, a group from Chicago, arrive out of breath and very late. The three of them – lead singer Effie White (Nicole Raquel Dennis) and best friends, Deena Jones (Natalie Kassanga) and Lorrell Robinson (Paige Peddie) – along with Effie’s composer brother C.C. (Shem Omari James), are in a panic but somehow, despite dodgy wigs and not perfectly
fitting dresses, get their chance to perform. Thanks to some behind the curtain shenanigans, the Dreamettes don’t win but that’s fine for Curtis who seizes the opportunity to not only help Marti but get in with Early and take his first step into the business we call ‘show’. Curtis convinces the girls to make him their manager and from the moment they do, all of their lives change forever.
I had seen Dreamgirls during its West End run and really loved it then, so I was intrigued to see how a touring production would look and sound. And boy did this show deliver. With music by Henry Krieger and Lyrics and Book by Tom Eyen, Dreamgirls has something special about it. Maybe it’s because on the whole, the story feels very genuine. Right from the start, the writers and producers have publicly stated that the plot is not based on the story of the Supremes, but you can understand why people think it might be. Personally, I think it’s a combination of a lot of stories from that early Motown era and, as they say, “Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental.” Whether based on real people or not, the story is superb and really fascinating. Talk about a roller-coaster of emotions. The songs go from the smooth to the exuberant to the downright emotional, changing the mood in the drop of a Musical Director’s – in this case Simona Budd – baton. I’ve said before that a musical often stands and falls on one song, and in this case, I was waiting for “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” which is the climax of the first act. However, by the time we had got to “Steppin’ to the Bad Side“, I had realised that this production was already a winner, and my favourite song was just going to be the cherry on top.
This is down to a wonderful cast led by the amazing Nicole Raquel Dennis as Effie. Despite being the heroine, Effie could easily come across as a bit of a selfish diva who is always seeking the spotlight and resents other people’s success. And yet like everyone, Effie is just a human being trying to do her best and survive in a difficult world. Nicole shows us that humanity throughout and as well as “I’m Not Going” – I promise that’s the last time I mention it – she has a wonderful song in the 2 nd act, “I Am Changing“, which once more really blows the audience away.
Natalie Kassanga and Paige Peddie join Nicole as Deena and Lorell respectively and make the most perfectly formed throuple you will ever see. I was thinking a lot about the character of Curtis on the way home. Of all the leads he is probably the most complex. In some ways he reminds me of Margaret Thatcher – stay with me here. Initially, he is strong and makes difficult decisions that are not popular but are necessary for the success of his acts. However, just like Thatcher, he gets carried away by his power and eventually resorts to an iron fist in an iron glove approach to see his ‘vision’ through, in the end losing everything. Dom Hartley-Harris plays the part to perfection. Initially a bit of a wheeler-dealer who sees the main chance, then a megalomaniac who, through coercive control, abuses those around him.
I can’t move on to the summary without mentioning Tim Hatley’s set and costumes. Both of which are fabulous and look amazing. Not only the wonderful performance outfits worn ‘on stage’ but the day-to-day clothing that is so right for the mid to late 1960s and with Casey Nicholaw’s direction and choreography, Dreamgirls is a high energy, exuberant show from the moment the cowbell rings until the final curtain comes down.
Yes, I liked Dreamgirls. Actually, I loved it. Strong performances, great songs and a perfect setting take this show into the stratosphere. The tour goes on until February 2023, taking in sixteen towns and cities and my recommendation is to get on the website today and secure your tickets for what will be one of the musical highlights of your life.
Review by Terry Eastham
Let your soul sing with the dazzling multi-award winning DREAMGIRLS at New Wimbledon Theatre in 2022!
Direct from the West End with an extraordinary story and the unforgettable, spine-tingling vocals that send audiences wild, this spectacular musical production features the classic songs And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going, Listen, I Am Changing and One Night Only.
Meet The Dreams – Effie, Lorrell and Deena – three talented young singers in the turbulent 1960s, a revolutionary time in American music history. Join the three friends as they embark upon a musical rollercoaster ride through a world of fame, fortune and the ruthless realities of show business, testing their friendships to the very limit.
Dreamgirls is at New Wimbledon Theatre from Monday 9th May, 2022 to Saturday 14th May, 2022
Palace Theatre Manchester Tickets
Tue 13 Sep – Sat 24 Sep 2022
New Theatre Oxford Tickets
Tue 27 Sep – Sat 1 Oct 2022
King’s Theatre, Glasgow Tickets
Mon 10 Oct – Sat 22 Oct 2022
The Alexandra, Birmingham Tickets
Tue 6 Dec – Sat 31 Dec 2022