Ever wondered just how much soul you can pack into a stage show ? Well wonder no more as Dreamgirls hits all the right notes.
Book and lyrics by Tom Eyen and music by Henry Krieger, this story of ambitious wannabee pop superstars The Dreamettes has a very familiar feel and yet, despite all the years it has been on stage (and the 2006 movie), it still has the power to wow, surprise, shock and delight.
Set in the early 60’s in Harlem, New York, it tells the tale of three singers – beautiful Deena, sassy Lorrell, and big-voiced Effie – and watches their rise to stardom, through heartbreak and out the other side, while simultaneously following the rise of black music and its challenge to the dominant white music industry.
This is a tale of transformation: from naive hopefuls into jaded superstars, from raw R&B into the disco era, from success to failure, and then back again. The Dreamettes desperately want their shot at the top and as ambition and raw talent come up against ‘the machine’ it is clear that the industry care as much about if your face fits as whether you have the ability. Tim Hatley’s sets are constantly on the move, creating a succession of stages, dressing rooms and recording studios. Gregg Barnes’s costumes, covered in a boatload of sequins and in shades of ever startling neon track the movement of time, gown by gown (with some awesome quick changes). And respect to Josh Marquette’s hair design – you can see the wigs getting more expensive with every move up the charts.
On a stage full of great singers, Nicole Dennis’s Effie White stands out above all others, her voice switching from a dagger to a whisper. The first act closes with the barnstorming And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going (a song that in the wrong hands could easily be And I Am Yelling...) and Dennis’s Effie is defiant even as she’s crumbling. Her massive voice rips through the auditorium, the killer line: “You’re gonna love me” addressed first to the man breaking her heart, then direct to the audience. “You’re gonna love me,” she growls again, and it’s not an appeal, it’s an order. And we do.
For some, Dreamgirls will not be their kind of musical - make no bones about it, this is huge, incredibly noisy and with the emotional impact of a wrecking ball coming right at you, but it is performed with such commitment and passion that you can’t help but smile with pleasure throughout.