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Review | Dreamgirls | Manchester Palace Theatre | 23/09/2022

I had been lucky enough to see this many years ago in the West End at the Savoy, so almost gave this a miss. Surely nothing could beat that, so there was little point in getting a ticket? How very wrong I was! I was so happy that I managed to snag a great stalls seat last minute in Manchester.

Sharing many similarities with the real-life story of The Supremes, Dreamgirls follows the rise of a 1960's female vocal trio. With the cutthroat nature of the music industry rearing its head, it was never going to be plain sailing for the group. Through this they are also tested by their friendships and relationships. Dreamgirls is in all senses a classic Broadway musical, winning 6 Tony Awards in 1982. On its West End premiere it also got itself a couple of Oliviers, so expectations were high for the first UK tour of Dreamgirls.

If there was any connotation for the sheer quality of this production, it was via the luscious gold curtain that adorned the stage before the show kicked off. We meet the 'Dreamettes', Effie White (Nicole Raquel Dennis), Deena Jones (Natalia Kassanga) and Lorell Robinson (Paige Peddie) at a musical showcase alongside a host of other talented performers. This was the perfect opener to showcase not only the talent of the leading actor/actresses but the whole ensemble. Against Effie's initial defiance, they end the night being scouted by Curtis Taylor (Matt Mills). From some negotiation with music manager Marty (Jo Servi), they are asked to sing backing vocals live on stage with the well-established livewire Jimmy Early (Brandon Lee Sears). The groups friendship is tested when Deena is asked to sing lead vocals over the vocally stronger Effie. Things turn from bad to worse when Effie is replaced completely.

Rightly or wrongly, people will always judge this show by the performance of 'And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going'. Knowing this, casting was always going to be difficult, but they struck gold with the powerhouse that is Nicole Raquel Dennis! Having previously seen Dennis as Alana Beck in Dear Evan Hansen I knew she was good, but nothing could have prepared me for her embodiment of Effie and exceptional rendition of the iconic 'And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going'. Very rarely do you get a mid-show standing ovation, and more rarely is it truly deserved. However, this was the most I have ever been moved by any performance of this song. A bold statement with all of the greats that have gone before her, but Dennis caused not only (inevitable) goosebumps but literal tears! As I turned to the lady next to me, she was also wiping away the tears when the house lights went up at the end of act one. It was the perfect example of how you simply cannot replicate the experience of live theatre. I will remember her performance for a long time. It wasn't just the strong vocals, but the emotion she gave not only in this song but her whole performance. Dennis doesn't rest on just ensuring she gets this pivotal song right; her entire encapsulation of Effie is faultless. She brings a vulnerability to the role, unlike many others who only show Effie’s anger. We feel great empathy with her, feeling her hurt and pain at everything that is thrown at her. If this was a West End Revival, she would be winning an Olivier.

It wasn't just Dennis who was sensational, Dreamgirls has an incredibly strong company. In particular I enjoyed Brandon Lee Sears’s take on Jimmy Early, who put a superb comedic twist on the role. The audience lapped up every moment he made eye contact and hilarious faces at those in the front rows. His comedy timing with every line and move he delivered has done perfectly.

It was apparently 2.5 hours, but it was one of those shows that absolutely flew by in a heartbeat. The only bit that seemed to drag was the interval! Although I adore the 2006 film, this story of resilience, friendship and 'girl power' really needs to be seen on stage to be fully felt and appreciated. When Nicole Raquel Dennis mouthed 'wow' during the curtain call, I could agree with her more.

Dreamgirls continues its UK tour well into 2023. See below link for full details and booking information.


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