Dreamgirls Review – Empire Theatre, Liverpool

Dreamgirls
Image source: Cheshire Live

Show: Dreamgirls
Location: Empire Theatre, Liverpool
Date: Tuesday December 21 2021
Times: 19.30
Running Time: 160 Minutes
Performers: Nicole Raquel Dennis
Production Company: Sonia Friedman Productions
Writer: Tom Eyen
Director: Casey Nicholaw

Now, this will be the final theatre show of 2021 at the Empire Theatre. So, let’s take a look at Dreamgirls!

Dreamgirls

Background

Dreamgirls features such classic songs as And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going, Listen, and One Night Only. This sensational, multi-award-winning production would first make its West End bow at London’s Savoy Theatre in December 2016.

So, the characters! Meet the Dreams: Effie, Lorrell and Deena. They’re three talented young singers in the turbulent 1960s, a revolutionary time in American music history. Come join 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.

With Covid cases on the rise, I was dubious as to how busy the theatre would be but interestingly it definitely looked busier than I thought it would be. Not quite a full house but nearly. Dreamgirls is a musical for the masses, most have seen the film and if you haven’t you definitely have heard the music. It’s big and bold and full of power. As my first time watching this show, I had big expectations. Firstly running as a musical on Broadway in 1981, it transferred to the West End in 2016 and this would be its first UK tour. 

Synopsis Of Dreamgirls

It’s based loosely on the business aspirations of RnB groups such as The Supremes, The Shirelles, Jackie Wilson and James Brown. It follows the dreams of 3 young girls from Chicago who want to make it big to become musical superstars; through heartbreak and dealing with managers more interested in their own gains. Now, the book and lyrics come from Tom Eyen with music by Henry Krieger. The story isn’t exactly rock solid and original, but it works.

The first act of the show establishes the characters and we meet Effie, Deena and Lorell played by Nicole Raquel Dennis, Natalie Kassanga and Paige Peddie. Seemingly innocent, fresh and full of hope, they get their first industry swipe when they don’t win a talent contest, despite having a strong chance. We see the girls develop their act with the help of their manager Curtis Taylor JR, played by Dom Hartley Harris, who plays the role of a sneaky, underhand, self-interested manager with ease.

Now, the first half didn’t move along as swiftly as I would have liked and at parts the dialogue didn’t seem as clear as it could be. Furthermore, I missed a couple of bits of the script. Once we got to the 3rd number of the show,  Cadillac Car, the show came into its own. It romped up and I was here for it. Step Into The Bad Side gave us a chance to witness Casey Nicholaw’s choreography which was representative of the era with rhythmic and intricate movements in which the ensemble cast shone. They were perfectly executed and every movement was in sync. 

Analysis Of Dreamgirls

This is a strong cast. There is no getting away from that. Nicole Raquel Dennis, Natalie Kassangra and Paige Peddie as Effie, Deena and Lorrel are superbly cast. Their harmonies and vocals blend effortlessly together and it’s seamless. Brandon Lee Sears as Jimmy Early gives us Jame Brown/Bruno Mars vibes with a huge stage presence. Furthermore, his ability to drop into splits at any given moment is admirable! 

The Dreamettes in Miami is where lighting designer Hugh Vanstone shone. His Miami setting was pure perfection. Plush curtains, enhanced with soft pinks, gave all the west coast aesthetic. There were many more moments of pure lighting joy throughout the show but this was one of my favourites. Dreamgirls brought gasps from the audience as one of the slickest onstage costume changes happened. It was brilliant. And next came one of the most show-stopping performances I have ever witnessed in the theatre. I’m Telling You by Nicole Raquel Dennis was simply sensational. She literally brought the house down. I’ve never seen a standing ovation at the interval before and it was so well deserved. Furthermore, sung with passion, control and depth, it was sublime.

Other Notes

The second half moved through the years of Deena Jones and The Dreams becoming one of the biggest girl groups in the country, a chart battle over the song One Night Only between The Dreams and Effie and reconciliation between Deena and Effie with lots more in between. Lee Sears as Jimmy Early breaks the 4th wall for a spot of audience participation which gives some light relief and we then get to see the real moves that Early has been fighting against. He is ‘Soul’ through and through! Ain’t No Party is a moment where Loretta, played by Paige Peddie, shines. She is sassy and tells Jimmy the deal with bags of attitude. Additionally, she is a force to be reckoned with.

The show closes with the most astounding costume of the night. Indeed, it’s gold, beautifully jewelled and sparkles galore. So, the costume department has truly outdone itself. Our ending is Deena and The Dreams giving their last performance of their career with a rendition of Hard To Say Goodbye which saw members of the audience swaying and waving their arms as Effie joins them onstage for a final performance of Dreamgirls

Summary Of Dreamgirls

This production of Dreamgirls is pure joy, escapism at its finest. It’s never going to set the history books alight but it’s a feel-good show that demands your attention and rewards you heavily for it. Furthermore, the audience definitely seemed to agree.

Liverpool was definitely onside last night, with supportive whooping and hollering, everyone seemed to love the performance. Furthermore, the staff at the Empire were great as always, yet a very eager usher seemed to be set on running around the theatre. I’m not sure why maybe to tell people to put their masks back on or to stop using their phones but her actions seemed more distracting than the initial problems themselves. Especially during an emotional song such as Listen

Dreamgirls is a powerhouse of a show. It’s a stunning performance full of glitz and glam. With sensational songs and astounding vocals, it’s simply a must-see.

Notes

Target Audience: Ages 10+
Content: No Content Likely To Offend
Recommendation?: Yes

Overall Rating: 9/10 – Outstanding

Dreamgirls Further Links

Dreamgirls runs at the Empire Theatre from Tuesday December 14 2021 to Saturday January 1 2022. So, to purchase tickets, please click here.

For more information about this show, click here.

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