Dreamgirls first came to the stage decades ago, when it dazzled audiences on Broadway. In 2006, it was adapted to the big screen successfully, with Jennifer Hudson offering a great lead performance. Currently, a new stage adaptation of Dreamgirls can be seen at the Savoy Theatre in London’s West End. For fans of the original, the show can make for a pleasant experience, but there are some critical letdowns that leave the audience wanting a little something more. It’s a performance worth seeing, for sure, but it doesn’t quite live up to what one may expect from such an iconic show.
The show tells the story of The Dreamettes, an all-female pop trio from Chicago in the 1960s. The Dreamettes are loosely based on The Supremes, and that is made quite obvious from the get-go. The tale is full of excitement, despair, heartbreak, and success, while outlining brutal reality of race relations during the era that saw Motown and Funk rise to fame. It’s a story that is certainly not all sunshine but can be inspirational for even the most down-and-out individuals.
The star of the production is Marisha Wallace, whose cool confidence and majestic voice steal the show from the start. She plays Dreamettes lead singer Effie White, who seems to be based on Supremes member Florence Ballard. Director Casey Nicholaw made a wise choice casting Wallace in this role, because the rest of the cast just doesn’t live up to her thunderous ability. That isn’t to say they are bad – perhaps they even suffer simply because Wallace is so good – but when compared with her their efforts just seem, well, lackluster.
If you’re into glitz and glamour, then this may be the perfect rendition of the musical to attend. However, Tim Hatley (set design) and Gregg Barnes (costume design), seem to go overboard to the point of tackiness. Yes, there is supposed to be a good amount of flashiness, but when it is overdone it can distract from the acting, dancing, and true meaning of the performance. Sequins serve a purpose, but too many sequins, and the purpose becomes lost in the glitter.
Nicholaw’s choreography is to be applauded, however. The dance numbers are what we have come to expect from a Nicholaw production, and combined with the fantastic music and singing from Wallace, the audience can be thoroughly amused all night if they are there to see top-notch choreographic direction. We just wish that there was a little bit more heart behind the rest of the production.
Overall, Dreamgirls is an entertaining production that is worth seeing, but it is marred by lackluster performances and an over-the-top aesthetic that detracts from the play’s theme. If not for Marisha Wallace’s exuberant performance, we may be singing a completely different tune. Come for Wallace and for the spirited dance numbers, but don’t expect to be blown away by strong acting or exceptional design.