Dreamgirls the Musical has caught the eye of London’s West End, and much of the attention has been due to the leading lady. Amber Riley is best known for her role in Glee, where she admitted that the script writers mostly got her to come on at the end and belt out the big number to wrap up to episode. She’s certainly getting to do a lot of belting in Dreamgirls – not that I’ve got to see her yet.
The main role of Effie White is hugely demanding vocally, and it has meant that an alternate has played the role on many occasions. In fact, I’ve been to see the show twice, both on days when Amber was scheduled to perform, and I’ve now seen both of the alternates.
There’s no need for concern if you’re coming to see the show, though. Both of the Effie’s that I’ve seen have been amazing. My favourite is Marisha Wallace, who has perfect comic timing and can belt out ‘And I’m Telling You’ like it’s no-one’s business.
The music – and vocals – are definitely why I will keep coming back to this show. Think Elphaba’s Defying Gravity riffs are good in Wicked? Come to Dreamgirls and prepare to get your head knocked off. These women give it everything on stage with performances so powerful and captivating that it’s impossible to not feel the emotion. There is a lot of deep emotional moments in this show, too. Singing about rejection, loves and friendships that are lost, and being true to yourself are all key moments.
The story starts with three young women who are desperate to launch themselves onto the music scene. They end up performing back-up for Jimmy Early – who is a crowd favourite as he injects hilarity into every scene he is in. After a while, their new manager Curtis decides that they can go solo, but only if the lead singer changes from Effie to Deena. Drama ensues. It’s all compounded by the fact that Effie and Curtis have been a romantic pair for years, but now his sights are set on Deena. Cue the unquestionable highlight of the musical ‘And I’m Telling You’. It seems like the whole act builds towards this outpouring of emotion from Effie, and the audience is on tenterhooks as that familiar refrain comes up.
I do think that sometimes the ensemble isn’t perfectly in sync, which could be because I have only seen the show with a lot of understudies. The choreography is good, but it isn’t the reason to watch the show; come for the costumes, the characters, and the vocals above all.
Before going to see the show, I read a review that said this was a five-star production of a three-star musical. It may not be the perfect source material, but this is unequivocally a five-star musical.
If you are thinking of going to see the show, make sure you book sooner rather than later if you want to see Amber as her contact is coming to an end. With or without her, this is a fantastic show so I recommend a trip at any time. Let’s hope it runs for a long time yet.
Have you seen the show? Which is your favourite musical, and why?