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Tom Eyen (book, lyrics), Henry Krieger (music), additional material, Willie Reale

Sonia Friedman Productions

Venue Cymru, Llandudno, Wales

August 9-20, 2022 (also Palace, Manchester, September 13-24; Winter Gardens, Blackpool, October 25-November 5); 2 hours 10 mins

Brandon Lee Sears as singer Jimmy Early, with Dreamgirls (l-r Natalie Kassanga, Nicole Raquel Dennis and Paige Peddie. Pics: Matt Crockett
Brandon Lee Sears as singer Jimmy Early, with Dreamgirls (l-r) Paige Peddie, Nicole Raquel Dennis and Natalie Kassanga. Pics: Matt Crockett

At face value, this is another national tour of a West End musical, notable for a string of power ballads. It has an engaging storyline and some standout performances. Brandon Lee Sears as Jimmy Early is particularly impressive with some energetic, rhythmic dance routines, while Dom Hartley-Harris is quite sinister as the controlling impresario, Curtis Taylor Jr.

The set is simple yet effective, the choreography excellent and the costume changes imaginative.

But there is a more serious layer beneath the surface. Dreamgirls picks up on the rise of several Afro-American girl groups in the 1960s, girls from ordinary, often church-based backgrounds, who went on to find fame and fortune mainly through Berry Gordy's Motown label.

This was the era of civil rights protests in the USA and of rampant, legalised discrimination in many states. The storyline of the show closely mirrors the experience of the Supremes, but it could just as easily be the tale of the Shirelles, Martha and the Vandellas, the Chiffons and others.

The original play was first produced on Broadway in 1981, only 20 years after these events are set, but it took another 25 before to make a screen adaptation and a further decade to make its West End debut.

The play makes racial discrimination explicit. Black groups were not successful in mainstream, white music. Songs popular in black society were adopted by white singers - including Elvis Presley - and became more successful than the black originals. You also see considerable sexism in the controlling behaviour exerted on female singers - all of which makes the success of these groups remarkable, and the story worth telling (while also, possibly, explaining its delay; sometimes history is just too awkward to relate).

But the standout feature of this touring production is not the storyline but the singing. Nicole Raquel Dennis as Effie White is outstanding, her rendition of And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going memorable. She is closely followed by Natalie Kassanga as Deena Jones. Which draws us back to the phenomenon. These groups became famous because they were simply excellent - great singing laid on brilliant tunes and lyrics; perfect pop songs. The quality of the songs largely transcended time and culture and they deserved their success - despite the mistakes people made, the destructive rivalry, and the equally destructive problems caused in adapting to a celebrity lifestyle.

Dreamgirls reflects this bittersweet experience and makes it a pleasure to watch, with music that is decidely something to celebrate.

Information and tickets here


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