For eleven nights only, the dazzling production of Dreamgirls is at The Marlowe Theatre, bringing the whirlwind story of the fictional group ‘The Dreams’ to Canterbury. A musical inspired by the early career of The Supremes and other Motown groups of the time, the show debuted on Broadway in the 1980s, before becoming a hit motion picture in 2006. The stage production was revived in 2016 in the UK and it is currently travelling across the country as part of the 2021/2022 UK and Ireland tour. I was very kindly invited to review Dreamgirls at the Marlowe Theatre’s press night yesterday and what a fabulous evening it was. Full of memorable songs, sparkling costumes and groovy dance moves, the audience was transported back to 1960s Chicago and thrown into the world of show business.
Dreamgirls follows the lives of aspiring singers Effie White (Sharlene Hector), Deena Jones (Natalie Kassanga) and Lorelle Robinson (Paige Peddie) on their journey to superstardom. Initially three young women with their whole lives ahead of them, they are taken under the wing of manager Curtis Taylor Jr (Christopher Gopaul): an ambitious and controlling man who is determined to make ‘The Dreamettes’ successful recording stars. The band debuted as backing singers for Jimmy Early (Brandon Lee Sears), before launching their own career under the watchful eye of Curtis. Effie White is the diva of the group, vocal powerhouse and Curtis’ girlfriend, but he wants to commercialise the group and cross over into the pop charts, placing Deena front and centre. The production explores the relationships between the principal characters, the evolution of the group into the maturer ‘The Dreams’ and the challenges of being black musicians in 1960s America.
‘The Dreams’ wear so many radiant dresses over the course of the two hour production. With costumes by Tim Hatley, the sparkly gowns shimmered against the lighting on stage, making you reflect on the glamour of the music industry in the 1960s. The group also wore some tremendous wigs, following fashion trends of the decade and transforming with every performance. Their finale outfits were miles away from the pink and white talent show dresses of their teenage years, showcasing how much the women have grown over the seven years that the plot covers.
With music and lyrics by Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen, there are so many brilliant songs in the stage production that I could focus on. The obvious candidates are Effie’s power ballads, but I actually really enjoyed the group number ‘Stepping To The Bad Side’. It is a rhythmic number with a toe-tapping beat and it is performed by Curtis, C.C. (Shem Omari James), Jimmy, Wayne (Lukas Hunt) and the male ensemble characters. The stage was lit in a moody red for the duration of the song, adding to the atmosphere of the enigmatic blues track.
I was a little disappointed to not see ‘Love Me I Do’ on the setlist, but overnight I have learnt that this is one of the four tracks from the film that aren’t in the stage show. This was not the case for ‘Listen’: an original song for the film which was made famous by Beyoncé and it was lovely to see how this had been rearranged into a duet for the stage version. The song took on a whole new meaning with Deena and Effie singing together, showcasing the importance of friendship and forgiveness. Natalie and Sharlene performed it beautifully together.
There are nine named roles in Dreamgirls and the principal cast are supported by an extremely talented ensemble. In terms of the leading parts, Brandon and Paige brought the comedy value in the partnership roles of Lorelle and Jimmy, Natalie brought the sophistication through her performance as the calm and collected Deena and Sharlene was absolutely sensational as Effie White.
For me, the role of Effie White makes the entire production. From the show-stopping ‘And I Am Telling You’ at the end of act one to the emotional renditions of ‘I Am Changing’ and ‘One Night Only’ in act two, the character brings the house down with her incomparable vocals. Sharlene received a standing ovation from the audience on multiple occasions. She poured her heart and soul into ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’, with the raw emotion of the performance giving me chills. Sharlene is the alternate Effie on the UK tour and it was fabulous to see an alternate lead take to the stage on press night.
All you’ve got to do is dream…
Dreamgirls* was an absolute joy from the moment the show opened with The Dreamettes’ talent show performance to the celebratory ‘final’ concert as The Dreams seven years later. I found the story quite emotional, experiencing goosebumps and shedding a couple of happy tears during the performance. I kept wanting to run on stage and give the girls a hug after all that they had been through together.
A musical that makes you feel this way is certainly a show to remember and it is so exciting that Dreamgirls will be in Kent for a week and half. Marlowe Theatre audiences have until Saturday 23rd July to catch the musical in Canterbury and it will not disappoint. As always, I am very grateful to the Marlowe team for the opportunity to review such a spectacular production as Dreamgirls. Tickets for the remaining performances can be purchased on the theatre’s website.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx
*My ticket and programme for Dreamgirls were gifted in exchange for a review of the performance.