Dreamgirls is a musical by Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen and is based on the successes of rhythm and blues stars, following the story of an aspiring girl group, The Dreams, and their journey to stardom. The musical debuted on Broadway in 1981 and was adapted for the big screen in a 2006 film starring Jennifer Hudson and Beyoncé.
The main storyline of Dreamgirls is typical, even stereotypical, with a girl group of three who pay their dues shooting for fame, make it big and then start fighting among each other, leading to the break-up of their band and friendship. There are moments of “girl-power” as the women each in turn walk away from their no-good men who are stringing them along, controlling them or taking them for granted, and these are uplifting moments in the show; however, despite the actors’ best efforts, it is a weak main plot line. Similarly, the musical makes a commentary on the racial divisions in the music industry at the time. The band’s manager is determined to conquer these restrictions and does so by diluting the soul, integrity and originality of his acts – in essence, selling out, but again, the story is quite weak.
The music within the show far outshines the insubstantial plot, however. The highlight of the show is without a doubt ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ at the end of Act 1. Act 2 is then a bit of an anti-climax, and although ‘Listen’ and ‘One Night Only’ are outstanding musical numbers, it would have been a wonderful end to the show to see a reprisal of the end of Act 1’s huge number rather than of the relatively weak ‘Dreamgirls’ itself.
Amber Riley (Glee (TV), Duke of Ellington’s Cotton Club Parade, Into The Woods) starred as Effie White. Her voice was sublime throughout, her character sassy and fun, and her performance of ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ was simply mind-blowing and had the audience going wild. Liisa LaFontaine (Rent, Dog Sees God, Once on this Island) and Ibinabo Jack (The Bodyguard, Hot Stuff, Little Shop of Horrors) were also fantastic as other Dreams members, Deena and Lorrell. Joe Aaron Reid’s (In The Heights, Ghost, Rainbow and Curtains) performance as Curtis Taylor, the sleazy group manager, was excellent. Adam J Benard (Thriller Live, Hairspray, I Can’t Sing) gave a standout performance as Jimmy Early and at times gave a much-needed change of tempo and sound to the show.
Despite a lacklustre plot, Dreamgirls is a powerhouse of a musical, with phenomenal singing, amazing music, and a talented cast.