Review – Dreamgirls, Savoy Theatre

Tuesday 6 December 2016

furthercastingannouncedfordreamgirlsatthesavoytheatreThe was an incident during the extended interval of last night’s preview performance of Dreamgirls.

Police swooped into the Savoy’s gorgeous auditorium creating a fine old brouhaha. It can’t have been good for bar takings. Punters lurked in the stalls craning their necks to see what all the fuss was about.

Had the rozzers been called in to stop the unnecessary and deeply annoying X Factor whooping, applauding and ovating that had been going on mid-songs? We could only live in hope. Couldn’t agree more with Mr Shenton.

It was certainly a bonding moment for the audience. Not that this was an audience Phil felt overly-keen to bond with. There seemed to be hen parties in the house or, well, people who just don’t know to behave in a theatre or were on something. The buzz in the theatre was palpable.

If the police had come looking for crimes against musical theatre it was the audience needed investigating not the show. Everyone wanted to know what had been found. When Phil was quizzed by a lady punter he passed on what info he’d gleaned from a reticent usher, that an audience member had “brought something into the theatre that they shouldn’t have, but that we weren’t in any danger”. Opening her bag and producing a hand towel she’d stolen from the Savoy Hotel upstairs she said meekly “Perhaps it’s this?”

This is the 1981 Broadway musical that’s taken an eternity to reach the West End stage. And on our night there was definitely more drama in the auditorium than there was on stage.

The Dreamettes are a fictitious (the creators deny it’s based on The Supremes) 1960’s 3-piece girl group who hit the big time then dump their troublesome but talented lead singer Effie (Glee‘s Amber Riley), for a sleeker model. Effie delivers a knockout version (with backup whooping from the audience) of ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ then goes. Then comes back. Sorta. And that’s about it.

But goodness it hits the ground running at such a pace you barely notice some of the other music business details of the plot. It’s almost as exhausting to watch as it must be to perform. This is a slick and highly-polished production. Lighting towers twirl, glittery drops drop (Design by Tim Hatley), fabulous costumes (Gregg Barnes) appear for a few minutes to disappear and return as something even more sparkly (whooping). And there’s a lot of big wigs.

The dialogue (Book and Lyrics by Tom Eyen), such as it is, only briefly interrupts the numbers (music by Henry Krieger) some of it as recitative (though for once even Andrew felt that worked). The vibe of the period is nicely caught in the songs. The second act ‘One Night Only’ provides the second earworm of the night. Director Casey Nicholaw‘s choreography barely seems to let up.

Despite all the lashings of sparkle and other notable performances, especially from Ibinabo Jack and Liisi LaFontaine as the other two original Dreamettes, Joe Aaron Reid as Curtis their ambitious and dodgy manager and the brilliant Tyrone Huntley (Judas in the open air Jesus Christ Superstar) as CC, Effie’s song writer brother, that in any other show would have us nodding approvingly, there’s one main reason to see that show. But buyer beware, Riley’s currently resting on Wednesday evenings (and our spies tell us she was also off last Friday). You really don’t want to to see it without her. it would be like seeing Half a Sixpence without Charlie Stemp or watching a solo Chuckle Brother.

Riley is whooped from her first appearance, but not only can she belt them out but she can act too, does a splendid drab-to-glitter on-stage costume change (whooping) and is often funny especially when she stands up for herself against, well, pretty much everyone (more whooping).

And yes we did ovate. Andrew was overwhelmed enough to eschew our Ethel-Merman-never-missed-a-performance edict and admit that just one performance a week would be quite enough for him.

Was it for one night only or do the police turn up every night? Do they lurk at the back of the stalls so they can catch Riley’s big number just before the end of Act 1?

Can’t blame them for that really. It would be criminal to miss her.

Rating for any night but tumbleweed Wednesdays
rating-score-5-5-our-cups-overfloweth

 

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