Dreamgirls UK Tour Review (Theatre Royal Plymouth)
After proving a hit and a star making machine on Broadway, Dreamgirls opened in London’s West End in late 2016, running through to early 2019 and now, after what felt like a long delay due to Covid, the show has hit the road on a UK Tour, bringing the glitz, glamour, and grit of showbusiness in the hard-hitting music industry.
Loosely, shall we say inspired, by the story of musical legend Diana Ross and her experiences of the challenging industry, Dreamgirls tells the story of three friends and singers Deena Jones (Natalie Kassanga), Lorrell Robinson (Paige Peddie) and Effie (Nicole Raquel Dennis) as they begin their careers as excited and fresh-faced girls and her faced with the competitiveness, challenges, and hard truths as they fight to become stars. Effie is used to being the leading lady, but tensions rise throughout the groups with arguments over romance, music styles and what is best for the group.
With songs such as ‘One Night Only’, ‘Listen’ and ‘And I Am Telling You’, over the years the music of Dreamgirls has become mainstream, boosting the show’s overall popularity and the crowded house at The Theatre Royal Plymouth were certainly getting into the swing of things and enjoying every moment of the high energy performances and powerhouse vocals.
Here the role of Effie is played by Nicole Raquel Dennis, and with previous actresses to take on the role including Glee star Amber Riley and the show having made a star of Jennifer Holiday, Dennis makes the role completely her own with an incredibly emotive performance that raised the roof. Effie is a character who is incredibly talented, and she knows it, and at times you would be forgiven for believing her to be entitled and more than just a little bit me, me, me, but that is all a part of the character arch and Dennis makes that crystal clear. Her Effie knows what she wants and knows what she is worth, plus her rendition of the famous ‘And I Am Telling You’ is worth the ticket price alone.
Natalie Kassanga’s Deena feels the polar opposite to the confident born to lead Effie, seemingly satisfied at first with being a back-up but pushed to the front and propelled to superstardom. An overall likeable character, and you do find yourself willing her on for success in her desired field. Although impressive throughout, I felt that it did take a little while for the performance of this character to warm up and for the audience to warm to the character, but Kassanga's Deena really came into her own in the second act with her duet performance of ‘Listen’ with Dennis earning rapturous applause.
Lorrell, baby of the original Dreamette’s group, played by Paige Peddie wins the audience over easily with her innocence and excitement at the start of the groups career at back-up singers to the popular artist James (Jimmy) Early, played by Brandon Lee-Sears. Another character who goes through quite a rollercoaster of emotions, growing up in an industry that is not only full of people willing to steal and cheat their way to the top but one that actively encourages it, with Peddie earning many an applause throughout as we follow Lorrell’s journey.
Brandon Lee-Sears, a highly energetic and expressive performer, impresses as the showman Jimmy Early, a true all or nothing character. Early comes alive on the stage, hiding a lot behind his big persona, with Lee-Sears able to display both sides of the man, the showman and the businessman with a troubled personal life. He depends on his management and creative team to ensure he remains a star. Matt Mills shines as Curtis Taylor Jnr, a businessman with his sights set of making it big in the music industry, no matter what it takes. He has big ideas, and he is not afraid to step on others to make it to where he wants his group to be. Shem Omari James’ CC White, the brother to Effie and song writer for the group, is an instantly lovable character, a man with a good heart which shines through in an industry that is as harsh and cutthroat as a music industry where people steal and change songs to fit the set target audiences.
The ensemble is non-stop, jumping from party goers to back up dancers to fans and to reporters (to name but a few roles) with an apparent ease in a show that is crammed full of high energy dance numbers and numerous costume changes. There is a real concert feel to this production at times with the ensemble looking as if they have just stepped out of a music video, providing the perfect support both in dance and vocals.
A set of sliding walls and many a different sparkling curtain provide enough of a backdrop to the action, creating a sense of both on and off stage, wings and dressing rooms, offices, and clubs. A fair amount is left to the imagination of the audience, but you get a sense of it all. A little bit disappointing to see that the beautiful crystal curtain, with every droplet immaculately in place, didn’t make the move from London to the touring production, but there is still enough sparkle to satisfy everyone who loves something sparkly, be that in the curtains that are used or the stunning costumes.
As I have found in a number of these sort of shows, the type where you see musical groups both on and off stage, both in performance and behind the scenes, think Jersey Boys or The Cher Show for example, I sometimes found the lighting a little bit over the top. Bright lights that often rapidly move or flash are used to create that concert feel, and whilst effective, it’s a bit much for me at times.
Dreamgirls is a celebration of the glitz and glamour of the music energy, of that idea that anyone could walk in, take a chance, and become a star. But just as much as it celebrates it, the show isn’t afraid to pick apart at it and showcase the downside, the dark side, that competitive edge and brutal truths hidden under the music, behind the sparkle. Impressive performers throughout bring honest and believably flawed characters to life, with vocals that raise the roof and lift and spirits. And the songs are definitely earworms, leaving you humming all the way home.
Dreamgirls runs at the Theatre Royal Plymouth until 6th August. Tickets are available here