Five Reasons To See Dreamgirls

The wait is finally over as Broadway smash Dreamgirls brings its glitz and glamour to London’s West End 35 years after this story of a 60s girl group first wowed New York audiences.  Here are five reasons why you need to get your ticket today.

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  1. Amber Riley

Glee fans will already be familiar with Amber’s knockout voice and those who never heard her as sweet-natured Mercedes Jones are in for a spine-tingling treat. Amber plays Effie White in the show, the lead singer in The Dreamettes alongside her best friends Deena Jones and Lorrell Robinson, who soon discover that the path to fame is as strewn with heartbreak as it is dreams. For a sneaky listen to Amber’s power to set hearts racing and tears flowing, check out this preview of her singing ‘I Am Changing’.

2. The Songs

From heart-wrenching big ballads to Motown-style stompers, the Dreamgirls musical numbers will have you dancing in the aisles, sobbing into your popcorn – and humming them for days. Audience favourites includes ‘I Am Changing’, ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ and ‘Listen’ – originally made famous by Beyoncé in the 2009 film and now a part of the stage production.

 3. The Costumes

The spangly frocks, the wigs, the sparkly shoes – Dreamgirls is almost as famous for its fabulous costumes as it is for its killer tunes. And the costume changes are as frequent as a Diana Ross tantrum – the 2009 US touring production of Dreamgirls had over 460 costumes and 205 wigs. The London production’s wardrobe has been designed by renowned, Tony Award winning costume designer Gregg Barnes.

4. The Story

It’s not all singing and dancing, Dreamgirls is an engrossing and emotional story. The plot follows the fortunes – and failures – of Chicago-based trio The Dreamettes – Deena Jones, Lorrell Robinson and Effie White after they are discovered by ambitious agent Curtis Taylor, Jr. The girls’ career takes off under Taylor, but at a cost as it’s not long before he’s controlling their every move. Under the stress of success, cracks begin to show in the group as the beautiful Deena emerges as the star of the group over the gifted Effie. 

5. Be Part Of History

Dreamgirls first hit Broadway in 1981 directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett. The show won six Tony Awards and has toured the United States and the world. The show finally arrives in London in a highly anticipated new production directed and choreographed by the hugely successful, Tony and Olivier award-winning Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon, Aladdin, Something Rotten!). One of the reasons why the show took so long to arrive in the West End was because producers couldn’t find the perfect Effie – until they discovered Amber. And who wouldn’t want to miss out on perfection?

Dreamgirls | Savoy Theatre | Booking from 23 November 2016 | Click Here For Tickets

Theatre Review: Sunny Afternoon, Harold Pinter theatre

John Dagleish as Ray Davis and George Maguire as Dave Davis in Sunny Afternoon. Credit: Kevin Cummins.

John Dagleish as Ray Davis and George Maguire as Dave Davis in Sunny Afternoon. Credit: Kevin Cummins.

Sunny Afternoon is a trip down dead end street, the story of The Kinks told through the band’s songs penned by frontman Ray Davies and playwright Joe Penhall. As one of Britain’s greatest songwriters, Davis’s lyrical narratives lend themselves nicely to a stage musical about the life of the band both on and off the stage and his (and brother Dave’s) melodies are natural crowd pleasers.

The Kinks were misfits in the 1960s, scruffy Cockneys with none of The Beatles’ pretty boy good looks or the Rolling Stones’ stylish swagger. From the beginning there was much internal squabbling, with Ray’s brother lead guitarist Dave (whose band The Kinks originally was) a constant spiky presence. The prickly, cross-dressing Dave Davies is played with gusto by George Maguire has recently, and deservedly, been nominated for a What’sOnStage award for Best Supporting Actor in a musical. He’s a Scrappy Do-like character, always gagging for fight or a party – brawling with drummer Mick Avory (Adam Sopp) and swinging from the chandeliers in sequins the next.

Sunny Afternoon follows the band from their inception in the Davis’s north London (pre-organic sourdough times) living room to an ill-fated American tour and their first Number 1. There’s class warfare, pitting the talented Muswell Hill hillbillies against Oxbridge types in double breasted suits, and many internal fall-outs (bassist Pete QuaifeNed Derrington – eventually quits the band in frustration). And there are the songs, many gloriously melodic songs, from the hard guitar riff of ‘You Really Got Me’ to the sublime ‘Waterloo Sunset’.

But the production stays the right side of positive, in fact you could argue it rather white washes some of the darker bits (Ray’s depression, his divorce from his childhood sweetheart who we meet in this production, played by Lillie Flynn). The story ends triumphantly with England winning the 1966 World Cup, resulting in a finale that is a real highlight, an infectious proper on-yer-feet celebration that encapsulates the swinging and a nation riding on the high of a World Cup win (or our rose-tinted ideal of what 1966 was like).

Sunny Afternoon premiered at the Hampstead Theatre earlier this year, where it was a sell-out smash. West End transfers can be dodgy things; a play that worked in an intimate space outside a W1 postcode can feel swamped in a bigger venue. And Sunny Afternoon feels a little lost at the Harold Pinter despite the great songs, triumphant set pieces and the response from a thrilled audience.

But it would be impossible not to have fun at Sunny Afternoon; any production soundtracked by The Kinks is going to be toe-tappingly fun and as good as the performances are, it’s the songs for me that were the real stars.

by Suzanne Elliott

Harold Pinter theatre, London. Booking to May 2015. Tickets: 0844 871 7622; sunnyafternoonthemusical.com

Theatre Review: The Light Princess, the National Theatre

Rosalie Craig as The Light Princess

Rosalie Craig as The Light Princess

The Light Princess, the Tori Amos-scored, Samuel Adamson-written, Marianne Elliott-directed musical was contentious even before it reached the Lyttelton stage at the National Theatre, its many delays hinting at trouble at t’musical mill.

When it (finally) opened in early October, it met with mixed reviews; critics were far from universally convinced it was worth the wait. The Daily Mail’s curmudgeon critic Quentin Letts practically choked on his quill in his review, scoffing: “Lord knows what sort of mushrooms they were serving in the Royal National Theatre canteen when artistic director Sir Nicholas Hytner agreed to stage this peculiar musical”.

A self-styled ‘feminist fairy tale’ fuelled by magic mushrooms? Sounds ace.

And I thought it was. This modern re-boot of a 19th century short story by George MacDonald has  a magical heart, a lavish dose of glitter and goodwill and some rousing, feel good choruses. The Matthew Bourne-esque scenery, all iridescent lakes, puppet rats and gothic towers added to the production’s charm and wit.

The musical tells the story of Althea, the Light Princess of the title, who is left gravity-less after her mother dies and she is unable to cry. Locked in a tower by her once-kind father, King Darius of Legobel (a bombastic Clive Rowe), she is content to spend her days floating and reading classic stories. But when her brother dies, she is forced by her father to take on his military role in the fight against Legobel’s neighbours, Sealand. Meanwhile over in Sealand, Prince Digby (an excellent Nick Hendrix) is so weighed down by grief following his own beloved mother’s death, that he’s nicknamed the Solemn Prince. Digby is put in charge of Sealand’s army and leads his troops towards Legobel where he easily overcomes the enemy. On his victorious route back he bumps into Althea who was trying to avoid the whole skirmish. And they live happily ever after… or do they?

It’s difficult to imagine The Light Princess being even half as delightful without Rosalie Craig’s wonderful central performance as the weightless Althea. Her singing voice is both powerful and controlled, her solos conveying emotional punch without attention-seeking warbles or showy offy extra notes. And she does a lot of her singing upside down, or ‘floating’ – held up by nothing more than supersonically powerfully-thighed acrobats (the black-clad, silent stars of the show).

The sprinkling of feminism may have felt forced in other environments, but there was a real sincerity and ballsiness to this production. Althea isn’t a ‘strong’ woman because she’s ‘feisty’ and ‘fearless’ – the usual lazy shortcut for a non-doormat woman – these traits weighed her down even if they did render her gravity-less. It was only when she shook them off, shedding heavy tears that released her from her emotional shackles that she felt powerful again.

My main motive behind wanting to see the show was Tori Amos’s score, although this was perhaps the weakest part. Some numbers showed flashes of Amos’s brilliance, but much of the score was repetitive and flat, although lifted by the performers and the excellent and enthusiastic orchestral and the chorus scenes were suitably rousing.

The Light Princess is magical escapism; perfectly snug, heart-warming theatre-fodder for the days before Christmas that ditches (some of) the whimsy of fairy tales of yore for a modern, sassy, inclusive production.

by Suzanne Elliott