This girl's like Brian Blessed in sequins screaming love songs: QUENTIN LETTS experiences a vortex of volume as Dreamgirls opens in West End
For more than an hour after seeing Dreamgirls I had ear-ache. This must be the noisiest show ever.
Its star, Amber Riley, has a voice so beefy, it could be served on a trolley next door at Simpson’s-in-the-Strand.
Miss Riley, big in America (and not small here, come to that), does not so much sing to an audience as sand-blast it. As a boy I was brought up near Fairford aerodrome when they were testing Concorde in the early 1970s. I swear it was never as loud as Miss Riley.
Miss Riley, big in America (and not small here, come to that), does not so much sing to an audience as sand-blast it
A blast of dynamite would be mere rhubarbing compared to this lady’s larynx. She makes the late Whitney Houston sound pianissimo.
I’m amazed the backstage staff have not gone stone deaf during previews.
Miss Riley plays Effie, lead singer in an early 1960s Chicago singing trio, The Dreamettes. They are taken on by a sharp manager (Joe Aaron Reid, rather good). Although he is having an affair with Effie, he demotes her in favour of the more glamorous Deena (the splendidly named Liisi LaFontaine).
The group is renamed The Dreams and by the time the 1970s come along they have dropped Effie altogether and achieved world supremacy
The group is renamed The Dreams and by the time the 1970s come along they have dropped Effie altogether and achieved world supremacy.
First seen in 1981, the tale may or may not be based on that of the Supremes. Tom Eyen’s script does not flesh things out much (and makes oddly little play of the race-equality theme).
Barely a few sentences separate Henry Krieger’s pulsating R&B songs. The numbers include Cadillac Car, I Want You Baby and One Night Only, which in a less stentorian rendition can be a lovely ballad. Miss Riley’s bone-juddering decibels – never lustier than when she roars the pre-interval And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going, and I swear my glasses nearly blew off my nose, such was her vocal power – push the show into a terrifying vortex of volume. The orchestra starts giving the score dollops more mustard to match her and the other singers follow suit.
First seen in 1981, the tale may or may not be based on that of the Supremes
Imagine a kingdom where everyone shouts like television sets on full-notch loudness. Imagine Brian Blessed in a sequin-shimmery gown, screaming soprano love songs. Aiee, the din! In row F of the stalls, I felt my chipmunk cheeks doing that G-force thing astronauts used to suffer in pre-launch tests.
Lord knows why director Casey Nicholaw bothered to use any of his budget on microphones for the honking Amber. Even without amplification she’d be audible down on Trafalgar Square.
The physical discomfort was accentuated by piercing whistles from several people near me; and that tells you that the show is, yes, good fun and likely to be a hit.
The physical discomfort was accentuated by piercing whistles from several people near me; and that tells you that the show is, yes, good fun and likely to be a hit
Staged colourfully and slickly, it will make jolly holiday fare for many. It has great costumes and incessant dancing.
Adam Bernard is ace as the Dreams’ co-star. Tyrone Huntley does well as Effie’s brother.
Those with a taste for simple storylines may enjoy the ruthless schmaltz as Effie fights her way back to fame after her fall.
But I bet the Savoy’s loop system has blown a gasket. And might not just the occasional softer number make for a more rounded evening’s art?
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