| By Kay Johal
I had the pleasure of reviewing Dreamgirls (you can read that here) at a time when it was in high season with both Amber Riley in the role of Effie and the general buzz and hype of a go-to show. Sitting very nicely in the palatial surroundings of The Savoy on London’s Strand is one of the West End's finest productions, complete with a strong storyline and stellar music. I made a return journey to Dreamgirls to see if it's still as glorious now that the show has firmly bedded in and if the new casting can live up to old expectations.
There is much to be said about the lead roles, in particular those of Jimmy, Curtis, Effie and Deena. Many people will either have appreciated the show when it was on Broadway or seen the film, and they will have their own perspective or viewpoint of how the characters should fully evolve. In all the productions, the casting has featured many well-known faces. Movie stars and world-class pop stars have all taken their turn. How will the show perform and work now, given its history of such casting and the very high standard that has been set? Can this standard be maintained without Hollywood’s finest gracing the West End every night?
Curtis’ character is portrayed by Joe Aaron Reid, who has a rich background in musical theatre, predominantly on Broadway. He brings to the production both wisdom and experience. Jimmy, played by Tosh Wanogho-Maud, has The Book of Mormon, Showboat and The Lion King, amongst others, under his belt, which demonstrates his ability to turn his hand to any role. Brennyn Lark has Broadway experience and is excelling in London as the vulnerable Deena.
Amber Riley was considered a shoo-in for the role of Effie, having shown her vocal ability in Glee when she delivered a rousing rendition of ‘And I Am Telling You’ long before being cast. Dreamgirls now alternates the role of Effie. Currently sharing the role are Marisha Wallace, Karen Mav and Moya Andela. Both Marisha and Moya have played the role before. Lesser-known actress Karen Mav is making both her West End and professional stage debut. I would imagine that it must be difficult to step into such big shoes but, my goodness, Miss Mav does it with aplomb, shaping the character to fit, and even to the trained eye, you would never know that Karen is indeed making her debut. I have seen her twice and without any degree of hyperbole I can say that her performance was flawless.
Which brings me back nicely to my above-mentioned point. I understand fully that some shows have an array of stunt-casting to draw in the crowds, a prime example of this being the recent production of Annie, which had Miranda Hart, Meera Syal and Craig Revel-Horwood in the role of Miss Hannigan. Dreamgirls is very wise to recognise talent, nurture it and let it grow. It goes to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that whether you are a seasoned performer or just finding your feet, that with strong belief and an abundance of passion for your cause, you can end up where you want to be. I am looking forward to watching Dreamgirls’ ever-evolving pool of talent as it continues to grow and grow.
Dreamgirls is playing at the London's Savoy Theatre and is currently booking until 22 September 2018. You can book Dreamgirls tickets here.