The Savoy Theatre 14 December 2016
After 30 years of waiting, Dreamgirls has arrived in London. The months of eager anticipation are over and tonight Amber Riley and the cast of this incredible musical blew the roof off London’s Savoy Theatre.
Dreamgirls is the ultimate showbiz tale, the story of three girls, eager to start in the industry and how they progress through it, an established singer who jettisons his manager for greener pastures, and the machiavellian business manager who makes Simon Cowell look like a puppy dog. It’s a cautionary tale that all that glitters is not gold and that staying true to yourself is paramount.
Originally directed and choreographed on Broadway by the legendary Michael Bennett, the responsibility for bringing Dreamgirls to the London stage has fallen to Broadway’s hottest Director/Choreographer Casey Nicholaw, who perhaps more than most understands the sheer importance of entertainment, alongside the talent and creative flair needed to make any musical successful. In Dreamgirls, Casey Nicholaw will no doubt tonight have inspired the next generation of musical theatre creatives.
Leading this production of Dreamgirls is the one and only Miss Amber Riley. Miss Riley may have attracted attention playing Mercedes Jones in Glee, but tonight she burst forth live on stage and produced one of those legendary performances that will no doubt be talked about for years. Riley gives Effie White a ferocious quality, a yearning for stardom that takes no prisoners, so when she is moved to the side of the spotlight and eventually benched, her performance of And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going, roars right to the very back of the upper circle in an emotional plea to an empty stage. Abandoned, she swiftly vanishes off stage as the group she has been sacked from, complete with Effie replacement move in and move on, such is the nature of showbusiness.
Riley’s performance is nothing short of astonishing, it’s a rollercoaster that had every hair on my neck standing to attention, my goosebumps had goosebumps as she soulfully delivered I am Changing, bought manager and record mogul Curtis to book and duetted with Deena on the reconcilliatory Listen, which has made its way into the show with new and more meaningful lyrics. There is no doubt that this is a career defining performance and tonight Riley has put the bookies on notice that she intends to win that Olivier Award for Best Actress in A Musical.
As the two other original Dreams, Liisi LaFontaine as Deena and Ibinabo Jack as Lorrell Robinson are wonderful, LaFontaine’s Deena initially shy of the spotlight blossoms, whilst Jack’s Lorrell learns to buck the flirty persona in favour of strength when the time comes to abandon Jimmy Early and move on. These two vocally strong performances are amazing, their strength in accepting the phasing out of Effie is only equalled by their strength when reunited.
Joe Aaron Reid is brutal as Curtis Taylor Jr. Strong, ambitious, he is a man on a mission and he will not let any obstacle get in his way which ultimately becomes his undoing. His arc from attractive ambitious wheeler-dealer on the way up to his final scene where you could literally see him implode with anger was truly spectacular. Watching him take the explosive talent that is James Early and sterile and sanitise his performance style is like a predator slowly squeezing the life out of its prey. Adam J Bernard’s Early is as alive as it is possible to be. Vocally impassioned, his Early is a man full of live, full of love but aiming ultimately unable to be true to himself.
What makes this production of Dreamgirl’s take flight is the playground upon which these wonderful talents are given to play upon. Tim Hatley’s glorious set design, a high-tech glossly black box with shimmering additions including one of the most beautiful curtains of Swarovski crystal that have to be seen to be believed. Integrated into this box of wonders are four moving towers of moving lights, Hugh Vanstone’s lighting pallette for Dreamgirls is extraordinary, warm and colourful when fame is kind to cold, bleak and flourescent for And I Am Telling you, it’s extraordinary. Gregg Barnes gives the production that wonderful seventies look, and his costuming of Amber Riley no doubt propells her inner diva and she has never looked better. Together with Nicholaw, these are creatives at the top of their game and they allow this show to propel itself in an ever increasing forward motion. It’s breathtaking!
Full marks must go to Richard Brooker for outstanding sound for this production of Dreamgirls. Every word was heard in this dynamic musical. Henry Krieger’s mighty score and Tom Eyens poignant lyrics filled the Savoy Theatre with vitality and a pulsing vibrancy that I’ve rarely heard from theatre sound. It must be a joy to accompany this production every night if watching musical director Nick Finlow is anything to go by. His orchestra produced a bold, brassy, pulsating sound and watching him sublimely playing in the largely enclosed pit made you sure he is a man who enjoys his job.
Perhaps the impact of the Pop Idol and X Factor generation will have an impact on how an audience perceives this showbiz tale but there is little doubt in my mind that tonights opening of Dreamgirls will re-ignite the fire that started thirty years ago when Michael Bennett introduced Dreamgirls to Broadway. An Act one standing ovation and two Act Two standing ovations have me convinced that Nicholaw’s orgasmic new production, complete with revisions by Eyen, Krieger and Willie Reale should see Dreamgirls Broadway bound again before launching itself on the world such is the might and fervour that I feel this production might arouse.
Photos: Brinkhoff and Mogenberg