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Finally arriving on stage two years after their 2020 performance was cancelled, Dreamgirls has hit the stage at the Alexandra Theatre for their Christmas run, and it was worth the wait.
I was lucky enough to experience a press preview of some of the main cast a little while ago and expectations were high, but nothing quite prepared me for the glitz and glamour that unfolded on stage.
Dreamgirls (that is very loosely based on the story of The Supremes) tells the story of the musical rollercoaster of The Dreams – Effie (Nicole Raquel Dennis), Lorrell (Paige Peddy) and Deena (Natalie Kassanga – who are three talented young singers in the 1960s. As a black female trio during a revolutionary time in American music history, their rise from backing singers to superstars is far from easy, with the realities of show business, fame and fortune being not what it seems. We follow not just the story of the group, but the path of each individual as they try to make their way in the industry.
Effie White, the original lead singer of The Dreams finds herself relegated in favour of the ‘more attractive’ Deena Jones. In the process, the group’s power hungry manager Curtis (Matt Mills) leaves Effie in favour of Deena, which causes her to have a breakdown and she is forced out of the group. Her signature song And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going is probably the most anticipated moment of the show, and with my previous references being the iconic Jennifer Holliday and Jennifer Hudson, these are enormous shoes to fill. And not only does Nicole Raquel Dennis fill them, she does it with style and emotion and reduced me to tears, resulting in a well-deserved standing ovation. Apparently, she did this with a cold too – a powerhouse who is clearly destined for incredible things in their performing career.
Deena Jones is placed in an awful situation when reluctantly made to take on the role of The Dreams. With her own dreams of becoming a teacher, she finds herself, her career path and her own decision making in the hands of Curtis, who becomes more controlling and abusive as their popularity grows. Natalie Kassanga does a beautiful job in the transformation of a young, naive Deena to a more mature woman who learns to speak her mind. With a superb voice, her rendition of Listen brought me to tears for the second time in the show. (I was lucky enough to interview Natalie during the press preview – read the interview here).
Lorrell Robinson brings a sense of comedy and light-heartedness to show. An enormously talented vocalist, Lorrell tries to keep the group together and is happy to be a backing singer, but is desperate to marry Jimmy Early (Brandon Lee Sears) who refuses to leave his wife. Paige Peddy’s performance of Ain’t No Party in particular was incredible.
The men within the show were equally as enthralling. Brandon Lee Sears is wonderful as R&B singer Jimmy Early, while Matt Mills is perfection in the role of intimidating Curtis. They both have very different vocal styles, but they compliment the vocals from The Dreams beautifully.
Dreamgirls should be at the top of your list of things to see for the festive season. The lights, the costumes and wigs and, above all, the sheer power of the vocals from the performers were almost overwhelming, gaining two standing ovations from a very appreciative audience, and it has cemented itself as one of my favourite shows.
Photo credits: Matt Crockett