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Review: Dreamgirls at the Savoy Theatre

For a show that has never previously played in the UK, we all already feel like we own a piece of Dreamgirls; such is the legacy of the musical.

Dreamgirls first debuted in 1981 on Broadway, but it was the 2006 Oscar-winning film that really cemented the show in global audiences’ minds. Along with the film’s success, certain numbers from the soundtrack became instant hits and staples of the all-American musical songbook: Steppin’ To The Bad Side, I Am Changing, One Night Only and the iconic And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.

The film also made a star of former American Idol contestant Jennifer Hudson, earning her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Effie White, much like the original Broadway show made a star of Jennifer Holliday as the original Effie in the ‘80s.

In this production, the focus is firmly on Effie again, with Glee star Amber Riley making her West End debut in the role. Every moment Riley is on stage is glorious. Her vocals are astounding and she’s as accomplished during the show’s quieter moments – in songs like I Miss You Old Friend and Family – as she is when she’s tearing the roof off the place in One Night Only and the incomparable And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.

Such is the power of her voice during this specific moment that the energy in the auditorium is palpable; several audience members cheer and whoop along with Effie mid-song and the performance rightfully garners a standing ovation before the interval.

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For those not privy to the story of Dreamgirls, the show tells the story of The Dreamettes (later, The Dreams) as non-conventional lead singer Effie is side-lined in favour of bandmate Deena Jones (Liisi LaFontaine), whose model looks and pop-styling vocals will guarantee the band a more mainstream audience.

From there, the show follows The Dreams’ rise to super-stardom and Effie’s own journey to find acceptance and success in her own right. It’s an emotionally charged show, largely bolstered by its backdrop against the civil rights movement and the focus it places on empowering young black women.

Also featured here is a reworking of Listen, first written for the movie version for Beyoncé Knowles, which now acts as duet between Deena and Effie near the show’s finale. It’s a clever moment, which helps to further underline the strength of the young women during such difficult circumstances.

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Aside from Riley, the show sparkles thanks to an accomplished ensemble. Special mention has to go to Tryone Huntley as C.C. White and Ibinabo Jack as Lorrell Robinson (the third member of The Dreams), but it’s Adam J Bernard as Jimmy Early who nearly steals the show. Meanwhile, Joe Aaron Reid as Curtis Taylor Jr. is a fantastically good villain that you’ll love to hate, although ultimately is just too damn nice to truly rally against.

In the end though, this is Riley’s moment, and in her, Dreamgirls has found a true superstar.

Amber Riley is currently scheduled to play the role of Effie White for seven out of eight performances per week, while one of the alternates will perform on Wednesday evening. This is subject to change and may be affected by holiday, illness or events beyond producers’ control.

Dreamgirls is playing now at the Savoy Theatre. Get your tickets now at Ticketmaster.co.uk.