Christmas at the Alexandra Theatre Press Preview and Interview: Dreamgirls

A little while ago I was given the incredible opportunity to see a preview of the Christmas show at The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham: Dreamgirls. 

Dreamgirls tells the story of Effie, Lorrell and Deena – three talented young singers in the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, a revolutionary time in American music history. We follow the journey of the three friends as they embark upon a musical rollercoaster ride through a world of fame, fortune and the ruthless realities of show business, testing their friendships to the very limit.

The four leads – Brandon Lee Sears as Jimmy Early, Lorell Robinson as Paige Peddie, Natalie Kassanga as Deena Jones and Nicole Raquel Dennis as Effie –  took us on a musical tour of the show and introduced us to their characters and performed some of the songs live.

And wow. An absolutely sensational series of performances from an incredibly talented and powerful cast that are clearly enjoying every second of singing not just to an audience, but with each other. Don’t believe me? Check out my highlights reel on Instagram. 

I took the chance to sit down with Natalie Kassanga – Deena Jones in the show – to find out more about her life as a performer. Natalie had already given a little insight into her character during the presentation:

She’s quite similar to me as a person – she’s all about light, love, she’s all about family until she’s lead down a road in which she is told to think otherwise. She goes through a lot of trials and tribulations but in the end she will do anything to make her dreams come true. 

The role that you play is such a big role, known both on stage and screen. The amount of power that you need for such a role, how to do you that on a nightly basis and still retain your voice?

To be honest sometimes I don’t know. Thank god we had our rehearsal process to get used to the show! I find that whenever you do a performance for so long means that it almost becomes autopilot. We’re doing eight shows a week so the more you do it, the more you get used to it and the more your voice adjusts to it. Singing things like Listen, Dreamgirls and One Night Only is all in the second act so it’s constantly go go go at a hundred miles an hour. It’s about taking care of yourself and sacrificing your lifestyle in order to be able to sustain these shows eight times a week and stay safe and healthy while travelling up and down the country. 

What do you do when you get a bit of time to yourself?

The one thing that I can’t wait to do when I go home is to put on pyjamas and Netflix. I’ve been binge watching Stranger Things because I’ve never seen it before, so I’ve been watching that a lot. I love having time just to have some time to just not talk, because there’s lots of talking and singing and shouting in the show, so it’s nice to not talk… and also a bit of shopping!

What sort of musicals do you like to watch when you get the chance?

I’m very open when it comes to musicals – I’m still learning so much about this industry and there are a lot of musicals that I haven’t seen that are out there. When there is time I try and binge-watch as many things that I can. Recently I saw Beauty and the Beast at the Palladium and then The Drifters Girls. I saw Les Miserables for the first time this year – it’s just being able to watch different styles of music and different ways of singing. To be able to watch shows and other people that are in my position perform is something I love doing being an audience member. 

There were a few suggestions of bucket list opportunities within this show during the presentation. Outside of Dreamgirls, what would be the bucket list roles? 

Older Nala in The Lion King – that would be a dream come true! Eliza in Hamilton, and take on big roles such as Elphaba in Wicked. That’s a beast of a role and anyone who can do that role I can only bow down to. 

Cynthia Erivo is Elphaba in the movie – she’s a legend!

I’m obsessed – she’s one of my favourite artists! To have the opportunity to really progress in one of those roles would be amazing, and who knows, one day maybe take my first step to Broadway?

Who are you biggest musical influences?

Beverley Knight on stage, Cynthia Erivo, but I also love artists that I have grown up with such as Whitney, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin. Those are the kinds of stars that my mum used to play every single day – in the car on the way to school, that was all I could hear. It’s nice to be able to experience that kind of sound and try it out myself. 

What is the best thing about being on stage?

Covid was a hard 18 months and to come back from covid made me really appreciate my job and really miss performing. It reminded myself what I was doing and what I provide in terms of being able to sing and share my talents. It’s a blessing and I’ll never take it for granted – it’s amazing and I’m so grateful for every single day. Being on stage is being able to play these characters and roles every day to different audiences, and there are different costumes and wigs – it’s a lot of fun! 

A friend of mine went to drama school and once said that he spent an entire day pretending to be an egg frying in a pan. What’s the most random thing you’ve had to do in your career?

When I first made my debut in the Lion King when I was little as young Nala, the ostriches that baby Simba and Nala usually go on, one of them had broken, so I had to pretend and do a really weird dance pretending that I was on an ostrich. I had to do this elephant nose dance move on stage for the whole number – there’s probably been lots of moments but that is the first one that comes to mind. 

Birmingham has a huge cohort of young performing arts students who desperately want to have the type of job that you’re doing. What’s the best advice you have for up and coming performers who want to get into the industry?

One thing I can say is that it’s hard. It’s not easy to get yourself an agent. It’s not easy to get yourself on stage and play the roles you’ve always wanted to play. Work hard towards it, that’s all you can do, keep training, keep working on your craft and perfect your favourite part of musical theatre whether that’s singing, dancing or acting. Carry on and never give up because at the end of the day, all that hard work and determination – the blood, sweat and tears, rejections, door closed in your face, it will all be worth it in the end. 

So why should you watch Dreamgirls at Christmas? Lorell Robinson explained it perfectly: It’s an incredible show. You’ve got glitz and the costumes, you’ve got glamour and lights, amazing characters that you might know or might not know, but you’ll fall in love with them. It’s got a journey with three beautiful women who go on a journey, you’ve got comedy, and over the Christmas period it’s a great musical to come and see – you’re going to leave feeling amazing. 

I can’t wait!

Dreamgirls will be on stage at The Alexandra Theatre from Tuesday 6th December – Saturday 31st December 2022. Get your tickets here!