Failing to win a talent contest, they get picked up as backing singers for R&B legend Jimmy Early, launching their bumpy journey to stardom. Through tempestuous professional and romantic relationships; break-ups, bribes and betrayals, love and loss, 'The Dreams' go on to become the hottest new talent in America. The racism of the era is somewhat underplayed in favour of the girls' story, however this is easily forgiven thanks to the remarkable performances and vibrant score.
DREAMGIRLS won a TONY on Broadway in 1982, became a Hollywood movie in 2006 and has finally brought its soul-filled spark to the West End. It is filled with all the infectious joy of a juke-box musical, but with glorious original music. Songs like 'And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going' and 'One Night Only' feel like soul and disco classics, whilst there's plenty of heart and attitude as the characters sing their way through arguments and love affairs. This is a musical about music that is driven by its score, showcasing the talent onstage with constant colour and energy. What was surprising was the level of subtlety and realism of the acting, amidst the showbiz glitter, creating characters we truly care about.
The cast are superb - every vocal is nailed with power, passion and truth. Stand out performances from Marisha Wallace as Effie White, lead singer of 'The Dreamettes' (usually played by Amber Riley of 'Glee' fame), Tyrone Huntley as C.C. her fresh-faced brother, and Adam J. Bernard who owns the stage as the James Brown-style legend Jimmy Early. The costumes and lighting are fabulous and set the scene for each musical decade.
Whether you're a fan of 60's soul or not, you will find yourself tapping your feet in tune to the music and wanting to sing along. The show boasts near faultless, five star performances, however more emphasis on what would have been an upward battle for black artists during a period of such rampant racism could have addressed what felt like the proverbial elephant in the room. Despite the plot's slightly simplistic shortcomings, the performances are powerful enough to stay with you long after the show.