***** 5 Stars
“A Dream Musical with Heart! “
It’s hard to believe it’s 40 years since Dreamgirls made its Broadway debut in 1981 at the Imperial Theatre with book and lyrics by Tom Eyen and Music by Henry Krieger and originally directed and choregraphed by the late and legendary Michael Bennett. A film adaptation followed in 2006 and finally 35 years later the show came to London’s west end in 2016 at the Savoy Theartre. It’s that production which has now hit the road around the UK and calls in to the Edinburgh Playhouse for an extended stay and what a production it is!
Loosely based on the real-life story of Diana Ross and the Supremes from there discovery in the early 1960’s to the height of their fame in the 70’s, we meet Effie White (a sublime in every sense Nicole Raquel Dennis), Denna Jones (Natalie Kassanga) and Lorell Robinson (Paige Peddie) a fledgeling trio who find initial fame as backing singers for Jimmy Early (an on fire Brandon Lee Sears). Then enters Curtis Taylor Jr (Dom Hartley Harris) a manager who will stop at nothing to see the group succeed especially Deena Jones who becomes lead singer and his wife along the way. What follows is a rollercoaster of friendships broken, families torn apart, corruption, abuse and the redeeming power of love all blended with a terrific pop/soul/rock fusion score.
This production is a Dream musical with heart and its down to the outstanding west end cast who give it everything. They totally inhibit the world of the “Dreams” with the ensemble being equally as excellent as the principals. Special mention must go to Brandon Lee Sears as Jimmy Early his is a performance that defies expectations, with raw energy and shrewd judgement.
Dreamgirls is literally the only musical where two leading ladies share the spotlight and while Natalie Kassanga’s “Deena Jones” delivers on every level its undoubtedly Nicole Raquel Dennis’s “Effie White” who steals this show with a performance soaked in raw emotions, unmatched vocal power and prowess. The great ladies of theatre have played “Effie”, but Dennis is in league of her own. The closing of act 1 to “And I am Telling You “Deserved the standing ovation it received, musical theatre doesn’t get any better than this!
Production wise the best of the Savoy production has been brought on the road with Tim Hatley’s Set and Costume design sparkling under Hugh Vanstone’s excellent lighting design. The only negative is Richard Brooker’s sound design, it’s not up to the power needed in such a large theatre as the Playhouse, with the cast too often being too quiet to be heard clearly, especially against Musical Director Simona Budd’s first class 10 strong orchestra. It’s an issue of balance and it’s the only aspect of this wonderful production that takes the sparkle off, however the performances ensure it retains its 5-star quality.
Director and Choreographer Casey Nicholaw has created musical magic with this production, clear concise storytelling, evocative choreography, wonderful music and performances the define the power of the theatre. It’s truly engaging from the off, if the issue on sound can be fixed then this production will be unmatched.
So, hurry along to the Playhouse and book those tickets and get ready to dream the biggest of dreams in this most thrilling and emotional of musicals.
Dreamgirls, The Edinburgh Playhouse, runs until Saturday 16th April, for tickets go to: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/dreamgirls/edinburgh-playhouse/