Dreamgirls at Savoy Theatre

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Dreamgirls at Savoy Theatre

Published:

Wed, 28/12/2016 - 16:02

By:

paul
Ibinabo Jack, Amber Riley and Liisi LaFontaine in Dreamgirls at the Savoy Theatr
Ibinabo Jack, Amber Riley and Liisi LaFontaine in Dreamgirls at the Savoy Theatre. PHOTO: BRINKOFF
Published: 
28 December, 2016
by HOWARD LOXTON

THIS 1981 Tony-winning Broadway musical was made into a movie but has waited 35 years for a British production. Now it sparkles into the West End: over a million Swarovski crystals in Tim Hatley's sets and Gregg Barnes’ costumes glinting in Hugh Vanstone’s colourful lighting. You could call it Glittergirls for the performers are dazzling too.

It’s about a black backing trio, a bit like the Supremes, that goes from talent competition to stardom. It's the 60s and 70s, fashions in music and attitudes to colour are changing, but the emphasis here is on personal conflict. Manager Curtis begins a romantic liaison with lead singer Effie then, deciding her colleague Deena will look better on TV and creates a more homogenous sound that is more commercial, gives her front place in the group and in his bed.

Tom Eyen’s book doesn’t do subtlety, but minimal dialogue and emotion packed lyrics; Henry Kreiger’s score tops one song with another. Amber Riley seethes with resentment as Effie but wins the audience to her side. When she turns on her tormentor her blazing delivery of And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going gets a standing ovation. There’s a similar reaction to One Night Only in the second act. Liisi LaFontaine has to make Deena a much blander vocalist in contrast but she and Ibinabo Jack are also very stylish Dreamgirls.

Tyrone Huntley (who made such an impact as Judas in the Regent’s Park Jesus Christ, Superstar) gives Effie’s songwriter brother real sensitivity. Even Joe Aaron Reid’s calculating Curtis shows some true feeling in When I First Saw You, but for sheer showbiz panache it is Adam J Bernard as Jimmy Early, the singer the girls join as his backing group, who amazes. With loads of charisma, gyrating pelvis, trembling legs and high notes held as he goes down in the splits, he even outdoes his costumes.

Casey Nicholaw’s production follows Michael Bennett’s Broadway original in its use of ladders of lighting that keep repositioning, boldly theatrical and very effective. I don’t know how much his choreography owes to Bennett but that too is vibrant and delivered with verve by his dancers.

Whether its flared trousers are a shared memory, or something grandpa wore this is a show that will lift the spirit and set the pulse racing. It’s not just a great seasonal treat, but has already extended its run to October.

UNTIL OCTOBER 2017    
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