Re-review: DREAMGIRLS at the Savoy

I first reviewed Dreamgirls about six weeks ago following its first public performance in previews (one of the best nights of my theatrical life) and I didn’t hold back in gushing about how much I loved it; the review was read and shared around by so many of you that it’s one of the most read things I’ve ever written – even Amber Riley herself thanked me for writing the review via Twitter.

Since writing my original review, I’ve been to see the show a further three times (yup, that’s four visits in the past six weeks) and if that doesn’t say what I feel about this show then I don’t know what will. I’ve been in love with Dreamgirls since I was first blessed with a copy of the OBCR around a decade ago and all these years later, the original recording and the subsequent movie adaptation have kept the fire blazing within me. Dreamgirls has taken 35 years to arrive in London and unsurprisingly, it’s the best musical the West End has to offer.

Everyone has been raving about what a star Amber Riley is and they really do have reason for saying so. Effie White is a role that feels like it was written for Jones's effortless talent and vocal expertise; she glides over all the notes like she's singing the alphabet she makes it sound so easy and it's her effortlessness that makes her portrayal so unique. But don't think that "effortlessness" means there's no power in her performance though, because her performance is a far cry from unemotional. In musical numbers like the iconic “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” at the end of Act One, there isn't a single audience member who isn't on their feet applauding the power they'd just been hit with, radiating from Amber's body like a beacon of star power.

Amber Riley dazzles as Effie White in Dreamgirls at the Savoy

And Riley isn't the only cast member with such impressive star power either. For what I think might be the first time in my life, I've witnessed a show where literally any of the cast could be billed as being the "star" and I would not be disappointed with the performance. Liisi LaFontaine (who I interviewed here) is the best Deena I have ever heard or seen in my life with such a soft voice and an acting performance to match. The same has to be said about Ibinabo Jack as Lorrell who turns this underrated character into the lead she is meant to be: her performance of "Ain't No Party" near the top of Act One is a highlight of the show for sure.

The boys are also just as fantastic as the ladies. Joe Aaron Reid makes a wonderfully charming yet sinister Curtis Taylor Jr. in a breakout West End performance to be proud of, while Tyrone Huntley becomes the little brother you wish you had as Riley’s character Effie’s younger brother C.C. He recently took home an Evening Standard Award for his performance in Jesus Christ Superstar at Regent’s Park in the summer and you can see just why in this performance as well. Adam J Bernard makes the star male performance in the show though as the hilarious and high energy Jimmy Early. This is his breakout role in the West End and it sure is going to make him a star.

Joe Aaron Reid and the male ensemble performing "Steppin' To The Bad Side" in Act One

The show really hasn’t strayed much from what I saw in the first preview surprisingly, which I’m glad to see because this production uses the same book and score as the original production, apart from the new addition of “Listen” in Act Two, mirroring the 2009 U.S. national tour. It’s also fantastic to see that the energy of the piece hasn’t dwindled either and no matter when you’re seeing the show, you can still feel the excitement and the passion that these actors have for this show running through their veins and we are rooting for them. We are rooting for them when they hit their high notes, the same as we are rooting for the characters in the story, which is most prevalent in the amount of standing ovations that are given throughout the show. In the first preview, the show had to be stopped five times to compensate for the standing ovations we couldn’t help but give and even on my third visit last week, there were three including the end of the show. For the first time in my life, I feel like I’m part of an audience that are just as enthralled by the performances as we are the story – maybe even more so – and it’s a magical feeling.

Adam J Bernard and The Dreamettes in the latter half of "Steppin' To The Bad Side"

This music is probably the best part of the show overall for me. Henry Kreiger crafted a score full of back to back showstoppers when he wrote Dreamgirls over 35 years ago and that does not falter in this new production. My favourite song from the show has always, surprisingly, been “Move” which is sung by The Dreamettes at the very top of the show. It’s a fantastic example of how upbeat and infectious the music in this show can be and no matter if your favourite song is “Steppin' To The Bad Side” or “One Night Only”, you can’t deny how catchy and feel-good these tunes are. I’ve been listening to them on repeat for over a decade now and I still find time to listen to the album over and over again on a daily basis all these years later; it really is that good.

The staging for the piece – while feeling vast and big at some points – is extremely minimal and the thing that keeps that from seeming to be tacky and cheap are the incredible costumes. Gregg Barnes is responsible for pretty much every costume from any hit show ever at this rate and his work on Dreamgirls is no exception. The Dreams are given some of the most glamorous and expensive looking gowns I have ever laid my eyes upon throughout the course of this show and it is something worthy of feasting your eyes upon. The same has to be said for –‘s lighting design which is particularly impressive when the set is so minimal (and even more so when most of the set that is there are walls of stage lights).

They're your Dreamgirls! Ibinabo Jack, Liisi LaFontaine and Amber Riley perform the title song in Dreamgirls

If you haven’t seen Dreamgirls yet, I urge you to book tickets immediately. I have not seen a “new” musical in the West End that was this good and infectious since… well, ever. The cast, the source material and this production overall are flawless and give this show the best new life that it possibly could: if you miss out on this then you’d be a fool for doing so.

Dreamgirls at the Savoy is now booking until October 2017. You can buy tickets to see this fantastic show online here. You can also read my original first preview review here and my interview with Liisi LaFontaine who plays Deena right here.

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