‘Dreamgirls’ (Edinburgh Playhouse) | Review by Rhona Williams

Dreamgirls (dir. Casey Nicholaw) soulfully sashayed onto the Edinburgh Playhouse stage last night. From the moment that the magnificent conductor (Simona Budd) pounded on her cowbell, to the final harmony, the production was a whirlwind of enthusiasm, passion and impeccable talent. The musicalstarts in the 1960s, and follows the lives of three ambitious and talented singers, striving to make it big in the world of showbusiness. Through fantastic musical numbers, we follow their stormy journey of fame and fortune, and the ruthlessness that entangles the celebrity world. Friendships, relationships, race, gender and body image are all brought into the spotlight but what this show profoundly draws upon is complete, unparalleled Black excellence. 

Dreamgirls has always been one of my absolute favourite musicals. With its classic numbers And I am Telling You I’m Not Going, One Night Only and Listen, it is always a fan favourite. Yet, what makes this musical a staple in the classic canon, is it’s almost exclusively Black cast, and its emphasis on R&B and soul music as not only content but style. The cast of this production were cast to perfection in their respective roles, but they were vocally some of the best talent that the UK musical sphere have come to know. There were some magnificent highlights such as Brandon Lee’s portrayal of Jimmy Early, Natalie Kassanga’s Deena Jones, Paige Peddie’s Lorrell Robinson and Shem Omari James’ C.C. White. That being said, there was one cast member that absolutelydevoured the show; Nicole Raquel Dennis as Effie White. The audience’s eyes were constantly glued to her portrayal of Effie, not solely due to her evocative storyline, but the rich and gorgeous tone of Dennis’ voice was incomparable. Towards the end of the Act One where Dennis belted out And I am Telling You I’m Not Going she received the standing ovation that she (and the full cast) totally deserved. There were tears, feelings of empowerment and heartache but most importantly sheer awe at Dennis’ vocal range and performance.

The production on a whole was visually gorgeous. As we were tunefully tunnelled through the 60s and 70s, we were engulfed into the past through enjoying the beautiful work of Tim Hatley’s set and costume design, that was showcased stunningly through Hugh Vanstone’s appropriate and versatile lighting design. Not only were we the audience for Dreamgirls but at many points we were audience members for Jimmy Early and The Dreams and through fantastic choreography and set design, we were able to distinguish when we were being told a story through song, and when we were watching these ambitious singers make their way across different arenas in America. The costume design was a huge factor in bringing this show the brilliance that it claimed last night, as it was a treat to look at and genuinely allowed for place, time, class and mood to be distinguished.

What was beautiful about this performance, was the general vibe and relationships between the cast members. They were professional, talented, fantastically rehearsed but clearly having the most brilliant time on stage. The friendships that had been developed were evident, and the joy and excitement was heart-warming to watch. Casey Nicholaw’s choreography allowed for the representation of R&B and soul to be visually captivating, and was constantly mesmerising and fun to watch.

As a hardcore Dreamgirls fan, my expectations were sky high for this production, and they were reached and smashed. I urge anyone considering getting tickets for this tour to absolutely do it, you will not be disappointed. All I can say at this point, is a wholehearted congratulations to everyone involved in the production last night, you all should be massively proud of what you have achieved, and thank you for taking us on this journey with you.

*****

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