/Savoy Theatre: Amber Riley in Dreamgirls (2017)

Savoy Theatre: Amber Riley in Dreamgirls (2017)


At the Savoy Theatre, director-choreographer Michael Bennett sees his 1981 Tony award-winning hit get a UK premiere. Anyone who loves musicals and strong vocals shouldn’t hesitate to see Dreamgirls. It is without question that lovers of Motown and soul music will also be more than satisfied with what Dreamgirls has to offer.

Loosely based on The Supremes, Dreamgirls is a reminder of the struggles of the music industry during 1960’s America – a time when blues and jazz music were once described as ‘race music’, and only then had the uprising of the African-American Civil Rights movement just begun.

Ibinabo Jack (Lorell), Amber Riley (Effie) and Liisi LaFontaine (Deena) in Dreamgirls at London’s Savoy Theatre. Credit Brinkhoff/Mogenburg

Three small-town girls follow their dreams for stardom, yet with a cut-throat industry filled with greed, racism and hypocrisy, their ambitions come with a price, more than they had bargained for. Relationships collapse and loyalties erode, yet their passion for music and singing keep them hungry for fame.

The stage is lit – dolled up in glitter, radiance and simmer. The dancers and vocalists perform in multiple glamourous costumes, it’s so hard to keep up. Adored in Swarovski jewels, Gregg Barnes’s designs are a fabulous display of 1970’s nostalgia.

Perhaps I should have introduced Amber Riley in the beginning of this review, but this American performer – who is a national treasure on stage and TV – steals the show, and that comes as no surprise.

She is best known for her sassy role as Glee’s Mercedes Jones, (from 2009-2015). Check out the prowess of her voice in this clip below, singing ‘And I am telling you I’m not going’, which is actually from Dreamgirls. Did she know she would be singing this song live for thousands of audiences on stage at the West End? Probably not.

The Savoy simply love Riley. Every time she sings that song audiences get emotional (eyes fill with tears!) and she wins a standing ovation. It’s truly deserving.

The Dreamettes’ manager Curtis, who Effie loves, plants Deena as the new lead, which destroys the group. Terrifically performed by Liisi LaFontaine, Deena becomes attached to Curtis and Effie’s replacement in a narcissistic industry where colour and size determined artists’ rank in the music charts, in those days.

Riley’s bold presence and astonishing vocals are enough reason to buy a ticket alone. Eventually, Effie pursues a singing career and makes amends with her group on her own terms. Her inspiration and honesty are a beacon of hope. So, the motto of the story here is: stick to your guns.

The script is straight to the point and non-complicated, which makes it easier for all audiences, families or lady friends celebrating a pre-wedding ceremony, to enjoy this fast and energetic feast.

Amber Riley. Photographs by Brinkhoff and Mogenburg
Amber Riley. Photographs by Brinkhoff and Mogenburg

The enthusiastic choreography is sharp and relentless. Adam J Bernard deserves a mention of his constant fire throughout the night, dancing away in James Brown fashion, thrusting his hips and pelvis.

Other vocalists include Asmeret Ghebremichael, Tyrone Huntley, Nicholas Bailey and Joe Aaron Reid who perform with style and gusto. This is the sort of show that will lift up your spirits and have you reeling for the rest of the night. You’ll find it hard to put your feet back on the ground.

Dreamgirls is now showing at the Savoy Theatre with booking lasting till February 2018. Click here to book tickets.