Dreamgirls is one of those musicals that completely passed me by. I’ve never seen the film, and didn’t pay much attention to the news of its landing in the West End, booking it more or less automatically because I managed to get a cheap seat. Written by Henry Krieger (music) and Tom Eyen (book and lyrics), it originally premiered on Broadway in 1981 but has only just made it to the West End.
Inspired by the black girl groups of the sixties, the show follows a group of three friends who, as the Dreamettes, enjoy success as backing singers for James ‘Thunder’ Early. However, when the group has a chance of solo success, the slimmer and supposedly more attractive Deena is chosen to lead instead of the strongest singer, Effie. Effie is full of bitterness at this oversight and betrayal, particularly as it is her lover, Curtis Taylor Jr., who has made the decision. Will she ever find success and make up with her friends?
For a show called Dreamgirls, it spends a surprising amount of time on the male characters, including Effie’s brother, her lover and the singer with which the group performs. In fairness, the actors – Joe Aaron Reid and Tyrone Huntley – are superb, and their song is a highlight of the piece.
The standout performance of the night comes from Amber Riley as Effie. Her voice is utterly incredible and blew me away each time she sang – Act 1 closer ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ being a particular highlight. Even if the subject matter doesn’t appeal – and the show certainly has some flaws – Dreamgirls is worth seeing for her performance alone.
The plot is shaky and a bit thin, and some events seem to come out of nowhere; I also found Effie’s jump in attitude between Acts 1 and 2 to be a bit confusing. Overall, though, it’s a memorable experience, and definitely worth seeing.