A hit on Broadway in 1981, a hit as a movie with Beyoncé in 2006, and now on tour direct from a successful run in the West End, Dreamgirls played to a full house yesterday evening at a West End-sized theatre, proving again that despite – or perhaps because of – the crises and disasters afflicting the real world, the public will pay to be transported out of themselves and into a glamorous world where struggles and rivalry are still rife, but dreams can come true.
The plot here is widely held to be based upon the rocky rise of the Supremes in the Sixties. An obscure trio of black women from Chicago called the Dreamettes (Effie, Deena and Lorrell) enter a talent competition at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, and get signed up as backing vocals for an R&B celebrity, Jimmy Early. As they go on to scale the heights of fame and fortune, each of them gets emotionally entangled with one or other of their manager and Jimmy himself. A new, sophisticated name (“The Dreams”) does not prevent unsophisticated rivalries. The prettiest of the Dreams, Deena, replaces the ‘full-figured’ Effie as the lead singer, although Effie has the best voice. The group even becomes Deena Jones and the Dreams (remember Diana Ross and the Supremes?). Poor Effie ends up being replaced altogether, as happened with one of the original Supremes, while her song-writing brother has an affair with her replacement. How unfair!
But the audience are rooting for Effie. They cheer her on as she belts out great ballads on her climb back to stardom in her own right. But they are completely gobsmacked at the performance put on by Brandon Lee Sears as Jimmy, whose cavortings on the stage would put James Brown to shame. Of course, it is the set-piece numbers when all the Dreams are strutting their stuff, with the ensemble dancing and cartwheeling around them, which really get the audience going. Indeed, the audience were actively engaged the whole way through, cheering and whistling at whatever they thought was a particularly good turn. The lightning speed of the costume changes, when the begowned honeys would disappear behind a curtain, only to reappear, seemingly just seconds later, with completely new outfits, caused many a jaw to drop.
The show culminated in a standing ovation that raised the rafters. For this old curmudgeon, I’m afraid, the corn was as high as an elephant’s eye. But when the public enjoy a show this much, who is to say that they are wrong?
- Book & Lyrics by Tom Eyen
- Music by Henry Krieger
- Director & Choreographer : Casey Nicholaw
- Cast includes : Nicole Raquel Dennis, Natalie Kassanga, Paige Peddie and Brandon Lee Sears
- New Wimbledon Theatre, London
- Until: 14th May 2022
- Running time : 2½ hours, including Interval