Review: Dreamgirls (Touring)

Wednesday 22nd June 2022 at Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It’s not until you see Dreamgirls live on stage that you truly understand what it takes to bring it to life for audiences. The sheer graft on display from a gifted cast is fantastic to watch when it comes to spectacle and story, but it’s in the singing of such a demanding, superb score that Dreamgirls sets itself apart in the realm of musical theatre.

It’s important to note that while this production provides endless energy and no respite, Tom Eyen’s book sweeps through the major life events of a whole host of endearing characters with depth, clarity and credible pace. If you’re new to the tale, it’s a little something like this: a trio of fresh-faced wannabes, the “Dreamettes” are scooped up at a singing competition and sent out on tour with Jimmy Early – the James Brown-esque superstar of the day. From there the youngsters find success on stage and off as their careers take flight and their love lives find some ground. All is not to last though as rivalries arise and the notorious betrayals of showbiz arrive in canon – not to mention the underhanded theft of material originating with Black artists and purloined by white artists for hits and profits.

If nothing else, this production needs to be seen thanks to the towering talents of Nicole Raquel Dennis, who performs Effie’s part with indefatigable energy and exuberance early on before pummelling us with heart-breaking impassioned numbers later on. Just when you think she can’t possibly manage the next belt after the one she just landed, she takes it further and leaves us agape in the process. It’s a similar story with Brandon Lee Sears’ Jimmy Early – he is a bona fide star as he performs Jimmy’s very physical and vocally agile performances with relentless energy and cheeky flair; just when you think he can’t take the eccentric performance any further, he’ll do exactly that and then some, combining impeccable comic timing with spine tingling vocals across a single number.

Dennis’ Effie is joined by stellar vocalists Paige Peddie, who as Lorrell, makes eye-wateringly powerful notes seem as effortless as drawing breath, and Natalie Kassanga’s Deena Jones who brings pitch perfect echoes of the great Diana Ross in her various signature numbers as lead of this Supremes-esque group. The pair provide great counterparts to Effie’s turmoil (Peddie with disarming comedy; Kassanga with infinite calming patience) and along with latecomer Michelle (Brianna Ogunbawo), there are some brilliant standoffs in place.

Other performances to impress include Shem Omari James’ gentle soul C.C White, Jo Servi’s authoritative, capable presence as seasoned manager Marty and Dom Hartley-Harris’ take on the complex Curtis – the newbie manager: a man with vision and ambition but not enough sensitivity as he ruthlessly pursues success for himself and those he manages. As for the ensemble? TALENTED. The whole cast without exception is on top form, handling director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw’s incredibly taught pace and demanding physical sequences in perfect, tightly choreographed unison (Harvey Ebbage in particular is a joy to watch).

Tim Hatley’s vibrant set design is only outshone in sparkle and spectacle by his costume designs which instantly place us in the realm of sixties girl groups: big hair, glamorous tailoring and plenty of boas and bling. While the cast work in perfect unison, so too do design elements, whether it’s the perfect costuming of the Dreamettes to catch the impact of Richard Brooker’s lighting designs, or set design which slickly directs focus to the next star turn – most notable when it comes to Effie’s impactful performance of “I am Changing”.

Speaking of big, glorious, belting numbers – the music of Dreamgirls is, well… dreamy. From the soulful, playful bops of Jimmy Early to the toe-tapping early tunes of the Dreamettes via “Move” and over to pretty ballads like “Family” and the iconic, gut-busting, heart-pummelling “And I am Telling You I’m Not Going”, there’s heart and humour aplenty, with not a single wasted note. In short, Henry Krieger’s music, combined with Eyen’s lyrics (additional material: Willie Reale), well and truly provide the heart and soul of the show.

This is musical theatre at its best: a gorgeous display of prowess across song and dance. It’s a show about dreams that are clung to and dreams that are dashed – about lives which soar just as easily as they crash down. When characters as well-written as these are given a score like this and a cast as sparkling as this one, you have something truly special in front of you. It’s a five star belter (literally) – catch it if you can!

Dreamgirls plays Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House until July 9th 2022 and you can find your tickets here.

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