Dreamgirls – Royal & Derngate – Northampton until Saturday 26th November

It was with huge excitement that I went along to the Royal & Derngate to see the Broadway musical Dreamgirls. I was looking forward to joining Effie White, Lorrell Robinson and Deena Jones as they go onboard a musical rollercoaster ride through the fragile environment of the sometimes uncaring, unfeeling world of show business, testing their friendships & family ties to the limit.

Sharlene Hector as Effie White

It was the music that I was really looking forward to. Having grown up listening to the giants of Tamla Motown such as Marvin Gaye, The Jackson Five, Gladys Knight & The Four Tops all around me on radio & television, this show was right up my street!

Although clearly a work of fiction, historical comparisons are obviously drawn with the meteoric success of Tamla Motown, its founder Berry Gordy & one of its most charismatic and influential acts The Supremes who went on to became Motown’s most successful act during the 1960s & one of the world’s best-selling girl groups of all time. When Florence Ballard was replaced with Diana Ross as lead vocalist, it began a tragic series of events for Ballard.

The Dreamgirls – Paige Peddie (Lorrell Robinson), Natalie Kassanga ( Deena Jones) & Sharlene Hector ( Effie White)

Not only a musical but Dreamgirls is also set during a backdrop of enormous social change. When agent Marty remarks that, ` The Atlantic Theatre is so white they don’t even allow our sort to park their cars` is significant.  Black acts were sometimes having their music stolen and recorded by white acts such as Pat Boone & Elvis Presley or packaged to become more acceptable for a white audience. The appearance of Boone was hilarious.

During the week two actors, Nicole Raquel Dennis who enjoyed a widely viewed duet with Jennifer Hudson as a semi – finalist on The Voice in 2019 (ITV) shared the role of Effie White. On the occasion of my visit Sharlene Hector, former vocalist with Basement Jaxx & Blonde as well as occasional backing vocalist for the likes of Michael Bublé, Rebecca Ferguson, Alicia Keys & Emeli Sandé took to the stage and wow, how she owned it!

Brandon Lee Sears as Jimmy Early

Her performance just before the interval of `And I am telling you I`m not going` had the packed theatre on their feet. What a performance! Full of passion, pain & loss, it was the highlight of the evening for this reviewer.

Brandon Lee Sears as the enigmatic, effervescent soul performer Jimmy Early was tremendous. His performance reminded me of the late great Soul giant James Brown. A great vocal performance interspersed by some fine comic moments and energetic dance routines endearing him to his audience.

It is the season of pantomime villains and Matt Mills as impresario, agent, Manager & all time bad guy Curtis Taylor Junior managed his role perfectly even grabbing a few isolated boos during the final curtain departure. His `When I first saw you`, his plea on two occasions for Dream girl Deena Jones (Natalie Kassanga) to stay with him was both heat warming and gut wrenching.

The Cast

Dreamgirls was a fantastic show. Great songs, fantastic cast & a moving story of relationships set during a turbulent period of musical & social change. Two standing ovations! One before the interval break and another at the end of the show.

This is a show you should not miss. It was tremendous. I don’t often write that I would go and see a show again but on this occasion. Catch it while you can. A real triumph!

Dreamgirls continues at Royal & Derngate, Northampton until Saturday 26th November

Picture Credit: Matt Crockett

Sharlene Hector as Effie White