When I first got the tickets to the West End revival of Dreamgirls, I was unsure whether it would live up to the masterful performances of Jennifer Holliday in the 1981 Broadway Premiere and Jennifer Hudson in the 2006 film. However, after the first five minutes of the show, I knew I would be in for an amazing night.
My main reason for wanting to see the show was Amber Riley, and I believe many in the audience shared this desire, since they erupted into applause every time she came on stage. Despite being too ill to perform on the two previous nights, Riley’s vocals were breathtaking. She effortlessly belted out some unbelievable notes and accented her character with a poignant depth. Her version of the show’s most famous number, ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’, was the clear highlight of the show. Coming just before the intermission, she poured so much raw emotion into the song that the audience was caught between tearing up and jumping to their feet to applaud this sublime performer.
Although Riley’s Effie White was clearly the star of the show, the rest of the cast held their own, particularly Liisi LaFontaine. LaFontaine displayed her vocal mastery in both the powerful songs and the more intimate, raw ones. Her duet with Riley, ‘Listen’, was unforgettable; the two vocal powerhouses complimented each other faultlessly. Other notable talents in the cast were Ibinabo Jack’s Lorrell, whose bubbly personality brought a grounding element to the trio, and Joe Aaron Reid’s Curtis, the perfect villain in the story with an effortlessly smooth range.
Some technical faults, such as lighting errors and awkward song transitions, did unfortunately weigh the production down at times. However, the audience’s attention was quickly diverted by the spectacle produced by the staging. The costumes were another highlight of the production, particularly the array of sparkling and elegant gowns.
There was a truly touching moment in the curtain call, as all three Dreams took their final bows together. This nicely tied up the main theme of the show—the women’s relationships with each other—and brought an empowering closure to the performance. During the curtain call, it was easy to see that the entire cast was in love with the show. Their joy was infectious as they danced together when the curtain fell one last time. The audience couldn’t help but be swept along in this elation, the entire theatre giving a very deserved standing ovation to the cast.
The production was still in its previews, officially opening on 14 December, yet it was almost flawless at this early stage. It certainly surpassed my expectations; Riley’s vocals will stay with me for a long time to come. If the show can fix its few remaining technical issues, I have no doubt that it will quickly become a runaway hit.