Last night I went to watch a musical for the first time in what seems like a very long time and it felt so good to be back. I was slightly apprehensive about the need to wear a mask all the way through – not because of any issues with wearing one but because I know from past experience that at times the temperature in the Hippodrome can rise above what is comfortable for me and I didn’t want that little bit of extra warmth. I’m pleased to report that the temperature in there seemed to be maintained within a slightly lower range than it has been previously and I was comfortable throughout!
The other slight hiccup was that my friend had to withdraw at short notice so my companion for the evening was a man who has previously stated that he hates musicals. However, he’d also confessed to the Dreamgirls film being one of his guilty pleasures so along he came.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t ever seen the film, but I will definitely be seeking it out now because if it’s even a fraction as good as this production it’s going to be amazing. This is a feel-good belter of a story, a tale centred around three young women with musical talent and a hunger for fame who, with their songwriter, join forces with an existing star and his management, leading to success and betrayal, heartbreak, broken friendships and lost dreams. In in the end there is redemption with the friendships rebuilt, the people who have been exploitative sent packing and the world set back in order. The storyline is loosely based on that of the Supremes and the music is in the R&B style of Motown and the girl bands that rose in the 60’s.
Visually this show is fabulous. So much sparkle and colour, so many fringes and feathers. The women’s fashions move from the 1960’s glamorous dresses through to disco era sequinned jumpsuits; the men’s clothes are generally less spectacular, though I was quite taken with various suits of different colours. The overall effect, combined with the various types of shine, sparkle and glow of the set and some very well-done lighting, is stunning. And then of course there’s the dancing which was every bit as professional, perfect and impressively choreographed as you’d hope.
The singing was the real star of Dreamgirls: there are some glorious anthems and Nicole Raquel Dennis as Effie delivered ‘And I Am Telling you I’m Not Going’ with such power and style that she got a standing ovation at the end of the song. Her voice is a wonder, standing out even when surrounded by singers like Natalie Kassanga as Deena and Paige Peddie as Lorelle, both also awesomely good. Dom Hartley Harris as Curtis also has a voice that sent shivers down my spine, while the combined male voices of Steppin’ to the Bad Side also made that one of my favourite parts of the show.
Brandon Lee Sears as Jimmy Early is extravagantly, gloriously sleazy in the tradition of Screaming Jay Hawkins and reminded me very much of Danny John Jules as the Cat in Red Dwarf: I liked him a lot. The entire Dreamgirls cast and ensemble are a joy though, and I couldn’t fault this production in any way. I came out of the theatre feeling uplifted, entertained and like I’d been on an emotional rollercoaster, everything that a night like this should make you feel. As for the companion: well he muttered a bit at the beginning because apparently he doesn’t like people singing dialogue, but apart from that it was a definite thumbs-up and he very much approved of the vocalists. So the final verdict has to be this is so good even those who don’t like musical theatre can enjoy it!
Dreamgirls runs at Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 22 January 2022