The past run of shows at The Savoy Theatre have been like reading my musical wish list for the West End. It started with Gypsy, then along came Funny Girl and now Dreamgirls has finally arrived. With a film that earned Jennifer Hudson an Oscar and a songbook featuring some of the most demanding songs in musical theatre - Dreamgirls is no easy feat.
The show begins with the young Dreamettes competing in an amateur night talent competition, which is a great introduction to the sounds of the time. We see the glitter on the stage and meet the various characters standing in the wings. The show officially kicks off with Adam J Bernard as Jimmy Early, performing "Fake Your Way to the Top" with undeniable stage presence. The mix of huge vocals and pretty slick footwork raises the bar in West End theatre - and it doesn't stop there.
The Dreamgirls themselves stand as a powerhouse trio who don't need to do much to convince you that they wont be singing background for very long. Ibinabo Jack as Lorrell Robinson creates a very loveable character with one killer voice. In every scene she draws you in with her sweetly demeanor, being simply a joy to watch.
Amber Riley is every bit the leading lady with her show stopping performance as Effie White. With Riley originally getting her break in the hit TV show, Glee, we all know she has a great voice, but it was certainly an experience to witness it without the liberal amounts of editing. She nails every number. Quite frankly it was hard to not give a standing ovation every time she opened her mouth. From the first three chords of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going", there is an audible intake of breath from the audience, as everyone knows exactly what is about to come. It must be an overwhelming experience for any actress to feel the pressure of tackling probably one of the most famous and demanding numbers in musical history, but Amber Riley does it effortlessly. She once again brings the house down with her rendition of "I Am Changing" in the second act, which is a wonderfully crafted moment in the show and a real moment of stage magic.
Liisi LaFontaine takes on the role of Deena Jones, the character played by Beyonce in the 2006 film. LaFontaine has a strong voice, which is perhaps too strong for the softer melodies. For the show to work, the audience should feel an injustice that the simpler voice of Deena is being held at a higher level than the incomparable voice of Effie. In this pairing, they could almost compete vocally, which they do in the newly added song, Listen. Being one of the films more popular songs, it didn't actually appear in the original stage show. It has now been re-imagined as a duet between Deena and Effie - resulting in an 11 o'clock number extravaganza. This dynamic performance between the divas allows LaFontaine to showcase her impressive range as the two voices come together in a vocal battle that left me beat.
Tyrone Huntley is one of the West End's strongest performers and once again delivers a wonderful performance as C.C. White. Huntley has a great talent for creating a character and sells every song with great emotion and skill. His duet with Amber Riley is a really touching moment in the show and their voices glide together in a very captivating scene. Throughout the show, and number after number, there are many great musical moments from the cast. When the full ensemble comes together on stage you feel floored by the high standard of the performers. The boys showcase their work in "Steppin' to the Bad Side" and the lead cast create high drama in an outstanding rendition of "It's All Over".
The set is very intelligently created with rotating lighting rigs and changing levels that swoop in and out of each scene. Costume Designer, Gregg Barnes, really had his work cut out with what seems like hundreds of outfit changes and thousands of sequins and feathers. The wings must be stuffed to the brim with dresses, suits and wigs - none disappointing in terms of glitz and glamour.
Dreamgirls is one of this seasons most anticipated arrivals, and it certainly doesn't disappoint. The overwhelmingly talented cast delivers the best two hours currently on in the West End. It's a real celebration of true talent, and an enjoyable evening of entertainment at every level. For fans of the film, it remains a very close re-telling, and fans of theatre will enjoy its kinetic energy and captivating performances. The stars hit all the right notes and this production ticks all the right boxes.
Dreamgirls is currently booking until 6 May 2017 at The Savoy Theatre, London.
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