5 times Olivier Nominated Dreamgirls opened in November 2016 to fantastic reviews from everyone – critics, regular theatre goers, people who were just going to see Amber Riley, the lot. There had been a bit of a wait, thirty five years after the show originally opened on Broadway. No, it wasn’t a film first. Loads of other people didn’t know either, don’t worry.
Being the cynic that I am, I expected it not to live up to the hype because I didn’t really remember her from Glee, and I’m really not into ‘stars’ being cast in shows. Unless they’re Lucie Jones or Gareth Gates in Les Mis and then I’m 100% ok with it.
Back to Dreamgirls.
I entered the lottery roughly 784 times, then just gave up and bought a ticket from TodayTix while sat outside a pub on the thames, 5 hours before the show started. True to form, I went on a night when Amber Riley wasn’t even performing, so had the absolute pleasure of seeing Karen Mav (LIPA, The X Factor) sing the roof off the Savoy Theatre.
I didn’t know the story before seeing the show, but I feel like I did. It was almost entirely predictable but endearing and feel-good nonetheless. The production elements really made it special though, even from the middle of the circle the production felt big and impressive.
I do feel like the cast could have stood and sung through the score, though, without any context, set, dialogue or choreography, and I’d have been happy. Not because those elements weren’t brilliant – the choreography in particular was very good, but the music was unsurprisingly the stand out element. ‘Listen’, ‘And I Am Telling You’ and ‘I Am Changing’ were as brilliant as anyone who knew those songs before seeing the show would expect. It is rare that any live theatre gives me goosebumps these days, but this definitely managed it.
There were unfortunately a couple of disappointing members of the ensemble but they were ignorable – they stood out only because the rest of the cast were exceptional.
While some have praised Dreamgirls for bringing diversity to the west end stage both in terms of race and size, I don’t think that this cast particularly ticks that box, yet. This casting of Dreamgirls isn’t ‘colourblind’ or ignorant to size – it’s deliberate. It’s about black women, on a ‘black’ music circuit, one of whom is bigger than the others – and it happens to bring diversity with it. That’s wonderful in itself, but I think that the real battle is won when that happens without the story having to be about the ‘minority group’ in question.
Enter the lottery every day before 3:30pm on TodayTix for £15 front row seats, or get tickets up to a week in advance for as little as £23. Enter the code TUNWE at checkout and get a further £10 off your order.