With the audience hushed for a minutes’ reflection, it felt somewhat apt to be awaiting a story about women defying expectations, and proving their value, passion and, ultimately, soul.
Dreamgirls follows three young women as they strive to share their voices and find success doing the thing they love, singing as a trio. Battling through sexism, racism, and the complexities of friendship, their story carries the highs and lows of any great ballad.
Set in an era where floral tea dresses clashed with vibrant miniskirts, the transition from girl to woman, singer to superstar, all unfolded amidst ever-changing backdrops by set and costume designer Tim Hatley. I lost count of the number of screens, curtains, and rigs that came and went to seamlessly transport us from front to back of stage, dressing room to red carpet.
Nicole Raquel Dennis plays Effie White, whose self-assuredness pushes ‘The Dreamettes’ towards their fate. The spontaneous standing ovation for, quite possibly, the best vocals I’ve ever heard for her rendition of And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going was remarkable. But more than that, the emotion that soared through the room was palpable, and gave the number more depth than on any cast recording. The character of Effie is a difficult one, and at times entirely unlikeable – which is testament to Dennis’ ability to portray such a complicated person.
Alongside Dennis were Natalie Kassanga – the reflective but ultimately sensational Deena Jones – and Paige Peddie who captured Lorrell Robinson’s naivety and growth with comedic flair. As with any musical group, it is the combination of voices and harmonies that elevates a song to a hit, and with the strength of all three women met in different ways on stage we were treated to a host of toe-tapping numbers.
One of the other stand-out performances for me was Steppin’ to the Bad Side, one of the only numbers performed solely by the male cast. Matt Mills played Curtis Taylor Jr., the car salesman turned manager who – with questionable motives – moulds The Dreamettes from girl-next-door singers to elegant divas. This particular song expresses the need to mix up the music scene, and take the bold step away from R’n’B to break into the pop scene. It’s the only real time the mood gets dark, and the powerful vocals – accompanied by Brandon Lee Sears as the eccentric Jimmy Early and Shem Omari James as Effie’s talented songwriter brother C. C. White – were matched by astonishing choreography (Casey Nicholaw who also directed).
Filled with glamour and sequins, heartache and despair, and the consequences of getting what you always dreamed of, every song is a showstopper that will leave you pining for an encore.
Review written for Matinee Radio