It’s taken 35 years, but Broadway hit Dreamgirls, inspired by the story of The Supremes, finally received its West End premiere last night (14 December) at the Savoy Theatre. Was it worth the wait? Based on most overnight reviews, the answer is a – very very loud (possibly over-amplified) – YES!
And as for Glee star Amber Riley, making her West End debut as Effie White, has she banished thoughts “the Jennifers” (Holliday and Hudson, who originated the role on stage and screen, respectively)? Again, a pretty resounding yes. I’ve rounded up key verdicts below. And don’t forget to check out all social media for the show, and all its cast including Riley, on my social media directory StageFaves.com.
Henry Hitchings: Dreamgirls is dazzling — a lavish and richly emotional musicalthat depicts fantasies of freedom and the price of success. Remarkably, it’s taken 35 years for it to reach these shores. The show’s undoubted star is Amber Riley, once of TV’s Glee, whose voice is huge and ardent yet also capable of delicate understatement. Her most gasp-inducing moments come during the anthem ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’, but it’s a performance that’s at all times exhilarating… Director Casey Nicholaw’s fluent interpretation boasts gorgeous costumes and choreography tighter than a lobster’s shell. But it’s the dynamic performances that propel this passionate musical, and Amber Riley’s is as thrilling as any I can recall.
Quentin Letts: For more than an hour after seeing Dreamgirls I had ear-ache. This must be the noisiest show ever. Its star, Amber Riley, has a voice so beefy, it could be served on a trolley next door at Simpson’s-in-the-Strand… Miss Riley does not so much sing to an audience as sand-blast it… Staged colourfully and slickly, it will make jolly holiday fare for many. It has great costumes and incessant dancing. Adam Bernard is ace as the Dreams’ co-star. Tyrone Huntley does well as Effie’s brother. Those with a taste for simple storylines may enjoy the ruthless schmaltz as Effie fights her way back to fame after her fall.
Aliya Al-Hassan: It is rare for an audience to give a standing ovation at the end of Act I, but Riley deserves it with a heartfelt and belting rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”. But her standout performance comes with the more subtle “I Am Changing’, which really showcases the light and shade in her voice, rather than just the incredibly impressive power notes… Her acting is brilliant, showcasing a spiky and spirited attitude with which you could cut glass.
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Nicole Scherzinger strikes a pose as she arrives at the Dreamgirls Press Night.