Dreamgirls at Savoy Theatre
Dreamgirls first opened in Broadway 35 years ago and it has been revived various times since, with its success consolidated by the 2006 film version starring Jennifer Hudson and Beyoncé. Set in the swinging 60s, the story is loosely based on R&B artists of the time, most notably The Supremes, and it tells of the ruthless laws of the music business that artists must contend with. It has now finally arrived in the West End with a very talented cast, led by Glee star Amber Riley.
A trio of female singers from Chicago live in the hope of reaching fame. A chance encounter with smooth-talking manager Curtis Taylor Jr gives them the break they had been dreaming of. Effie White (Riley), the lead singer of the group, soon becomes Curtis’s lover. Just before their journey is about to take off, however, Curtis announces that he wants backing singer Deena (Lisi LaFontaine) to become the main member of the band. Inevitably, this puts all relationships under strain.
The drama unfolds as a relentless succession of high-energy musical numbers dazzle the audience. The set is an explosion of glitz, with constantly changing backdrops of coloured lights and sparkle. It’s glitter galore in the costume department, too, with some outfits replaced at baffling speed. The show itself, however, is essentially a colourfully presented set of clichés, with songs that would fail to captivate were it not for the superb vocal abilities of the performers.
The one unshakeable element of the production is Riley’s incredible voice. She makes every piece sound grand and imposing and she blows the audience away every single time. The supporting cast holds its own and finds a way to shine in spite of Riley’s larger-than-life vocals. Adam J Bernard in particular gives a terrific performance as the extravagant, James Brown-inspired character Jimmy Early.
The problematic factor of Dreamgirls is that it wants to hold a high note from beginning to end and shine throughout, which makes it unbalanced. There is also very little interest in plot or character development. The dialogues are banal and there is no respite from the aural exorbitance or glaring visuals. Most scenes consist of loud catty fights about boyfriend-stealing or diva-like bickering over who gets to be in the limelight. As far as sending out positive messages, the musical falls short in many ways.
What it does offer is a fun, lighthearted show with backgrounds and costumes as fabulously loud as the performers’ vocals. This is a great chance to see some amazing talent, but the audience must not expect quality to run much deeper than the surface. Dreamgirls will surely be a hit, but it’s ultimately one for the X Factor generation.
Photo: Brinkhoff & Mögenburg
Dreamgirls is at Savoy Theatre from 14th December 2016 until 11th March 2017. Book your tickets here.