After a quieter festive season than usual due to the pandemic, a glamorous and sparkly musical is most welcome. And wow; Dreamgirls definitely ticks those boxes!
The show is set in 1960s America and tells the story of the challenges Black performers in the R&B music industry overcame to be recognised in the popular music charts.
It opens in 1962 with teenage friends Effie White (Nicole Raquel Dennis), Deena Jones (Natalie Kassanga) and Lorrell Robinson Paige Peddie) about to perform in a talent show as The Dreamettes at the Apollo Theater in New York.
They don’t win but meet Curtis Taylor Jr. (Dom Hartley-Harris) who persuades them to become backing singers for R&B performer Jimmy Early (Brandon Lee Sears).
What follows is the friends’ journey from wannabe pop performers to music superstars. Along the way are internal battles as Curtis changes the band’s lead singer from Effie to Deena and battles with the music industry as they fight to be recognised as popular chart acts.
It was common in the 50s and 60s for white performers to cover Black singers’ songs and achieve huge success. One famous example referenced during Dreamgirls is Hound Dog. It was originally recorded by Big Mama Thornton in 1952 before being covered by Elvis Presley in 1956 and becoming one of the best-selling singles of all time.
Dreamgirls: A spectacular visual and musical extravaganza
We were absolutely wowed by Dreamgirls. Everything about it is spectacular.
The set is amazing. It flows seamlessly from front stage to back stage to 1960s TV studio to a 1970s Las Vegas theatre.
It has the most costume and wig changes we’ve ever seen including one particularly memorable scene when Effie is performing in casual clothes in a near empty club. The spotlight focuses on her face before she is transformed into wearing a glittering blue dress watched by a full audience. If you like 60s and 70s fashion you’re going to absolutely love this show!
Nicole Raquel Dennis as Effie is responsible for another very memorable moment. Following her anger at being dropped as the group’s lead singer, Curtis breaks up with her and she sings And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going. It’s a song she famously performed with Jennifer Hudson on TV’s The Voice in 2019.
Nicole’s voice is absolutely stunning and the performance is spine-tingling. It generated a rare but very much deserved pre-interval standing ovation from the audience.
Another highlight is the production’s ability to age the cast. Through costumes, wigs and awesome acting, the characters grow up on stage in a very natural way.
All the cast are brilliant and the various performances by the Dreamettes (later known as The Dreams) and the hilarious Jimmy Early made us feel like we really had gone back to a very significant time in American music history.
Both my 15-year-old daughter and I absolutely loved the show.
Dreamgirls is what the best musical theatre is all about and it is a properly spectacular West End experience. If you’re looking to extend the festive party for as long as possible, this is the show for you!
Dreamgirls is at Bristol Hippodrome until 22 January.