Dreamgirls has long been one of the most popular musicals of all time. It first began on Broadway back in 1981, which was followed by a number of national and international tours as well as residences, revivals and one-off concerts. Its most prominent revival was the award-winning 2006 film adaptation starring Beyoncé and Jennifer Hudson as well as a whole host of other A-list stars – which has since gained a huge gay following. Riding off that box office success was the 2009 revival in the US and now its finally made its way to the West End.
In November 2016, the West End production opened to rave reviews. Starring Glee’s Amber Riley as Effie White, the show has consistently sold out and recently won 2 Olivier Awards – one for Amber. As a huge fan of the musical – particularly the film – Gay Homestays went along on Saturday 29th April to “check it over and check it out” and in short, we absolutely loved it!
In the first scene we are almost immediately introduced to “The Dreamettes” and although we are sure everyone was expecting Amber Riley to make her entrance as Effie, it was in fact her alternate Marisha Wallace who stepped out instead. Of course, for most this may have been a slight disappointment but nevertheless she very quickly proved why she was chosen as Effie as well – both her acting and singing chops were on point.
Most people who have seen the musical or film will already know the story and its timeline from start to finish, but being aware of what happens next or even memorising the script did not deter anyone from watching with intent and awe as the cast took back on a journey through this iconic musical as it retold the tale of The Dreams. Throughout the production, the urge to get up and sing is almost unbearable at times – you know the lyrics to every song and have been practicing them all week in preparation – but at the same time you marvel at them as they tackle every song with charisma and ease, injecting emotion and soul with every word and note.
Adam J. Bernard, who plays Jimmy Early, is full of energy and really fully embodies his character – and it seems like he studied Eddie Murphy’s interpretation very well, as his voice was almost like a clone. Some may have found this redundant, because of course you want every actor to have their own interpretation of a character, while others may have been gobsmacked that he sounded exactly like Eddie. Either way, it did not deter him from showing us why he won the Olivier award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical.
Marisha passed every test and was almost too good to be true as Effie White – a role that has some very big shoes to fill. She nailed the legendary “And I Am Telling You…”, giving a rendition that dare we say, is actually better than her predecessors – her voice is warmer and less gritty than Jennifer Holliday, less piercing than Jennifer Hudson’s and richer than Amber Riley’s. Her incredible Dreams co-stars as Deena Jones and Lorrell Robinson also played their parts well.
In a brilliant scene between Effie and Deena, both actresses break out into an unexpected duet of “Listen”, which was originally written specifically for the film version and performed by Beyoncé. The song was reworked in 2009 for the stage revival as a rekindling of the pair’s friendship as Effie encourages Deena to be strong, leave Curtis and go her own way, and was a very pleasant surprise to people here and the two ladies gave it their all as they emotionally belted it out. Beyoncé would surely be both proud and shook by the performance.
One song however, that we do wish had also made its way onto the stage is “Love You I Do”, the soulful crooner that Effie White sings to Curtis. Jennifer Hudson originated the performance in the film and it has since become a fan favourite, but was sadly missed off this time.
In all, all the experience of watching Dreamgirls on stage is a joy. The entire cast were magnificent and the music leaves you wanting to re-listen to all the songs again even though you spent ages listening to them beforehand because you couldn’t sing along during it and the whole soundtrack really is that timeless.
Overall rating: 5/5
Have you seen Dreamgirls in the West End or any of the other previous productions? What are your thoughts on the show? Let us know in the comments section below and on social media!