Palace Theatre, Manchester
Until Saturday 24th September 2022
British audiences had to wait a very long time to see this Tony Award-winning smash hit musical on home soil – thirty five years in fact! – but we’ve been spoiled in recent years with a hugely successful West End premiere run at the Savoy Theatre, from November 2016 to January 2019, and now an extensive UK and Ireland tour, currently booking through to February 2023.
Closely mirroring the story of the Supremes, Dreamgirls follows The Dreams – Effie, Lorrell and Deena – a young female vocal trio from Chicago, Illinois, as they navigate the turbulent 1960s and 70s on a fraught journey to global music stardom.
We first meet them backstage at a prestigious talent show in New York, accompanied by Effie’s brother and their primary songwriter, C.C., where The Dreamettes (as they are originally named) are introduced to fast-talking Cadillac salesman, Curtis, R&B star Jimmy “Thunder” Early, and his manager, Marty. Though the girls are reluctant, Curtis persuades Marty to hire The Dreamettes as backup singers for Jimmy’s upcoming tour and becomes their manager.
Despite initial harmony and early success, things quickly turn sour when the devious Curtis (now dating Effie) makes the decision to remove Effie (the strongest singer) as lead vocalist and replace her with the more timid Deena due to her commercial, crossover appeal, just as Berry Gordy did with Diana Ross in the Supremes.
It is a move that leads to real hostility within the group and ultimately a breakdown in the girls’ relationship and Effie’s eventual separation.
Casey Nicholaw’s Olivier Award nominated production is slick, well-paced and does an excellent job showcasing Tim Hatley’s striking stage designs and sublime costumes, with strong choreography and an exceptional ensemble cast.
Nicole Raquel Dennis is extraordinary as the show-stealing Effie, and it is worth the ticket price alone just to hear her sing the act one closer, And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going, which is met with standing ovations well before the end of the song.
Completing the central trio are the brilliant pairing of Natalie Kassanga as Deena and Paige Peddie as Lorrell. Both sing beautifully and deliver unique performances that work well together, and Peddie adds some impressive comic flair when required.
Elsewhere in the cast there are strong performances from the hugely impressive Brandon Lee Sears as Jimmy, Matt Mills as Curtis, Shem Omari James as C.C., Jo Servi as Marty, and Brianna Ogunbawo as Michelle.
Henry Krieger’s score fuses the sounds of Motown with high energy R&B and smoother crossover numbers. The song’s aren’t always memorable but there are some huge show-stopping hits in the form of One Night Only, Listen (written for the 2006 film) and the aforementioned And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.
Tom Eyen’s lyrics are clever and heartfelt, particularly with the big ballads, but the book is a little problematic. It attempts to cover so much in such a short space of time and often things can feel rather rushed or not fully explored. Certain aspects can feel repetitive too and fall flat.
Primarily focusing on the themes of race and gender, Dreamgirls is the story of three women overcoming adversity, oppression and coercive behaviour, breaking boundaries and achieving their dreams in an industry dominated by men, and at a revolutionary time in American history.
Driven by a predominantly black cast and with spine-tingling vocals throughout, this powerful and rousing show feels particularly stirring at a time when the discussion around equality and diversity has perhaps never been more important. Superb.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes (approx.), including one 20-minute interval.
Final Performance at the Palace Theatre, Manchester: 24th September 2022.
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