If there was ever a show that deserved a cast recording recorded live, it’s Dreamgirls. It’s about a trio who become household names, and the show does well to portray through its sound and lighting design – as well as top-notch performances – an arena concert sound. As I noted in my review of the 2016 West End production of Dreamgirls, the show itself came across as more of a concert than anything else. Of course, the musical already has a live recording, of a 2001 concert performance featuring Lillas White, Audra McDonald and Heather Headley, with full versions of each and every musical number, which more than makes up for the omissions in the Original Broadway Cast Recording. There have, however, been some changes since then, most notably the addition of ‘Listen’ to the list of musical numbers, originally composed for the film adaptation, and as I understand it, modified again for the theatre.
Such was the enthusiasm that the audience had when I attended the show – a good thing, really, as a show like this wouldn’t be the same without a strong audience response – that I missed an occasional lyric either in the hearty applause or in the deliberately very loud acoustics of the song, or both.
Everything’s crystal clear on the album. And unlike attending the live show, if the volume’s a tad too loud, with the cast recording there’s always the option to turn the volume down!
Generally speaking, the talking point about the show is the Act One closing number, ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’, a simultaneous statement of defiance and of love. The sheer power of Amber Riley’s vocals are showcased at full tilt, as they are in an early Act Two song, ‘I Am Changing’. But for all the attention centred on Amber Riley’s Effie White, what comes across in the cast recording is how much of a team effort the show is. The supporting roles of the other ‘Dreamettes’, Deena Jones (Liisi LaFontaine) and Lorrell Robinson (Ibinabo Jack) are a pleasure to listen to throughout. ‘Steppin’ To The Bad Side’ has marvellous harmonies, a catchy tune to boot, and in this as well as other musical numbers, a performance from Adam J Bernard’s Jimmy Early that impressed the Society of London Theatre enough to give Bernard the Olivier Award 2017 for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical.
This cast recording does justice to the show and is a wonderful complement to seeing the production live. The whole thing is a splendid and soulful album to listen to in its own right, whether or not you’ve seen the show – and, dare I say it – whether or not you even intend to. Take, for instance, the Act One number ‘Cadillac Car’, partly, as the title suggests, about attaining a level of wealth that allows one to own and drive a very nice vehicle. It’s done with verve and at a snappy pace, capturing the excitement of going around in a Cadillac, and all the status and lifestyle that goes with it.
It’s just as tuneful when it starts, without accompaniment, as it does when the 14-strong band under the direction of Nick Finlow, and the ensemble, is in full flow. The tempo isn’t sustained, however, not because the song runs out of steam, but because it succeeds in the final minute or so of portraying a leisurely drive both in the car and through life, or at least this particular stage of life. The line, “Look at me mister, I’m a star!” has quite a different feeling when sung with frenetic boldness compared to singing it with a relaxed confidence. A similar contrast occurs in Act Two with two vastly distinctly renderings of ‘One Night Only’.
“I can’t sing no more sad songs!” hollers Jimmy Early at one point, calling an early end to the torch song ‘I Meant You No Harm’. I can’t blame him. This cast recording is a most welcome addition to anyone who likes their musicals full of fun and invigorating delight.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Dreamgirls London West End
Strand, London, WC2R 0ET
Wednesday 2.30pm 7.30pm
Saturday 2.30pm 7.30pm