Sunday, October 2

Dreamgirls – Edinburgh Playhouse

Effie White (Nicole Raquel Dennis), Lorrell Robinson (Paige Peddie) and Deena Jones (Natalie Kassanga) are the talented young 60s R&B group The Dreamettes. This musical charts their journey to stardom over a ten year period (subtly done through music genre and changes in costumes and wigs, by Suzanne Runciman, Danielle Bryson, Poppy Camden, Natalie Onoufriou, Lee-Ellen Wilson, Maria McLarnon, Olta Citozi, Aimee Harrison and Kirstie Lavin). It’s not all singing and dancing though, with their journey including compromise, broken friendships (as seen in their name change from the Dreamettes, to The Dreams, and later Deena Jones and The Dreams) and the inherent issues of trying to make it as a black person in a white-dominated industry, aided and hindered by Dom Hartley-Harris as Curtis Taylor Jr., Brandon Lee Sears as Jimmy Early, Shem Omari James as C.C. White, Jo Servi as Marty and Brianna Ogunbawo as Michelle Morris.

The show was inspired by the world-renowned Motown records (one of the first Black-owned record labels in the US, their roster included the Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gay. and The Supremes) and girl groups like The Marvelettes and The Shirelles. As such, the music is a core part of this show’s identity, which is not forgotten, and the singing is stellar, with multiple numbers by Nicole Raquel Dennis, Paige Peddie and Natalie Kassanga getting huge bursts of applause purely on the sheer emotional force of their voices.

Emotionally, there is quite a lot going on here. In fact, my only criticism of the show is that there might be a bit too much, with several important side-characters disappearing at a certain point (the film version addressed this by killing one of them off) and some important character beats happening either off-stage or with only a few lines of dialogue. But that is not to say that its scope isn’t a strength. This musical isn’t just a juke-box musical or nostalgia-fest, one of the show’s greatest achievements is its addressing of the size-ism and racism in the music industry, the former through the side-lining of Effie’s character, and the latter through the Jimmy and the Dreamettes’ song ‘Cadillac Car’ only gaining mainstream success after being covered (and syruped up) by a white group. Real life examples of this, as the show notes, include Elvis Presley with Big Mamma Thornton’s ‘Hound Dog’.

But this isn’t a political show or historical lecture. It’s a lot of fun, full of humour (Paige Peddie shines in particular here), high energy, and great singing from the entire ensemble (am I just being really uncultured if I say Brandon Lee Sears’ gymnastic movement and voice reminded me of Michael Jackson, who rose to fame as part of a Motown act, The Jackson 5?). The tech is also unusually good here, lacking many the balancing problems which often beset the sound of touring shows (kudos to Nick Lodge, Candice Weaver and Connor McConnell), and boasting lighting and colours which veer from just really good to poster-shot (courtesy of Toby Cartmell).

All in all, it’s just a great night out. Thanks to a very high-calibre cast and crew under (and including) director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw, this is a show fans of previous productions or the film will love revisiting, and which strangers will love discovering.

Playing until 16th April, https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/dreamgirls/edinburgh-playhouse/

Reviewer: Oliver Giggins

Reviewed: 6th April 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

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