Review: Dreamgirls

Review: Dreamgirls, New Wimbledon Theatre

Review: Dreamgirls, New Wimbledon Theatre

Jenny Booth reviews: “It’s a tremendous show – prepare to sit back and be entertained.”


It’s incredible to think that Dreamgirls is nearly 41 years old, as this Broadway musical about three black women making it to fame amid the ruthless pressures of the US music industry is still so fresh. Loosely based on the story of Diana Ross and the Supremes and packed with big, challenging musical numbers, the show has been a star-making vehicle from the outset. The film version launched the career of American Idol winner Jennifer Hudson; and the current UK touring production is helping to establish another reality contestant, Nicole Raquel Dennis. In a case of life imitating art imitating life imitating art*, in 2019 Dennis duetted the Dreamgirls song And I’m Telling You with Hudson in the blind auditions of the UK reality contest The Voice, and went on to reach the semi-finals with the help of Hudson’s coaching. Naturally, Dennis plays the pivotal part of fallen diva Effie, whose dramatic storyline and vocal pyrotechnics catapulted Hudson to fame.

Like Effie and the Dreamettes at the start of Dreamgirls, Dennis did not win her talent contest; but judging by the rapturous reception she received for her performance at New Wimbledon Theatre last night, Dreamgirls may be working some of its star-making magic once more. Her soulful version of “I Am Changing” in the second act was a showstopper, where every word rang true; and her voice showed remarkable power and flexibility in intense duets like “Listen”. The show is rich with standout performances, including Brandon Lee Sears in the role of R&B singer Jimmy “Thunder” Early, causing admiring gasps from the outset by continuing to sing while dropping into the splits. Natalie Kassanga is girlishly sincere as Deena Jones, and Paige Peddie really comes into her own in the second act as the third Dreamette, Lorell Robinson, commanding the stage with a biting performance of “Ain’t No Party” as she gives the prevaricating Jimmy the boot. Initially smiley and placatory, Shem Omari James gains in power and presence as Effie’s song-writing brother CC White. In stark contrast, Don Hartley-Harris brings a blank, still, lizard-like quality to the role of Curtis Taylor Jr, the manager who takes the renamed Dreams to the top but rides roughshod over their hearts.

Casey Nicholaw’s slick direction pares back the lavish sets of the West End show but still conveys the opulence and glitter of the era, helped by Toby Cartmell’s glitzy lighting, and Tim Hatley’s simple but high impact design. Nicholaw created the stunning choreography which channels Broadway energy and glamour from the opening second. It’s a tremendous show – prepare to sit back and be entertained.

* yes, really

New Wimbledon Theatre, until 14 May

Image: Matt Crockett