Every man has his own special dream, and last week at the Savoy Theatre that dream was about to come true. 35 years after its Broadway debut, Dreamgirls has finally made it to the West End. The show (totally not based on Diana Ross or The Supremes in any way) follows black girl group The Dreams from the start of their music career in 1960s Motown America, and tracks the relationships and power plays that define what happens next.
It is very Broadway, very slick and very sparkly. There was more wigs and sequins than any show I’ve seen before, and that includes Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I couldn’t help compare what I was seeing back to the polished 2004 film version. This production felt louder and more colourful, which I’m not sure was always welcome. I could feel the 1980s datestamp a bit too keenly on Step Into The Bad Side and Family. And a particular annoyance was the new duet version of Listen. If it’s not Beyoncé and Burke, I don’t want to know.
What makes this Dreamgirls production exceptional is the casting. Even more than the movie, the stage show is about Effie White’s transformation. Of course Amber Riley got a standing ovation for the iconic And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going. She deserved a bigger one halfway through Act Two for I Am Changing, providing a rawness that just doesn’t let up. Jimmy Early is the other standout character, perfected by Adam J Bernard as he shares the James Brown-style soul and passion. The show isn’t revolutionary. I’m not sure it’s a ‘must-see’ but if you get tickets you won’t be disappointed.
Dreamgirls is booking until October 2017
There’s another 60s and 80s throwback on offer from the touring production of Dirty Dancing though I wouldn’t recommend it. I was expecting a jukebox musical. Instead I got a very-faithful stage reproduction of a film I haven’t seen, with very sparse live singing. The cast were competent on their own yet I couldn’t buy into the holiday romance between bad boy Johnny (Lewis Griffiths) and innocent teenager ‘Baby’ (Katie Hartland). the whole show was cluttered with too many scene changes and too many characters not saying much. I pined just a little for Johnny and his arms of steel during that lift, but there wasn’t enough dancing or believability to make me want to see it or the film ever again.
Dirty Dancing continues touring the UK until September
— Stephen Hawke (@hawke_stephen) January 12, 2017
Speak It’s Name and Andrew Salgado
There’s two small exhibitions at Trafalgar Square right now. The National Portrait Gallery has Speak It’s Name, a quick filler for a blank wall that combines quotes and photos of seven LGB people. Three of them are Will Young, Tom Daley and Ben Whishaw. Their photos and quotes told me nothing. If you’re already in the gallery, mooch your way to view it but don’t make a stand alone trip.
Instead, head to Andrew Salgado‘s exhibition across the Square at the Canadian High Commission (the flags obviously tell you where to go). Ten features imposing, bigger than life-size portraits and mixed media paintings. They’re bold, colourful, textured, despairing and witty. My favourite pieces were 20 Years and The Joke (centre and right above). Each painting commands being appreciated and analysed up close alongside the detailed notes in the free exhibition leaflet. This is a must see if you’re by Trafalgar Square, whether you’ve got 20 minutes or 2 hours to spare.
Speak It’s Name is at the National Portrait Gallery until 29th October and has an accompanying book. Ten is at the Canadian High Commission until 27th February.
Next month I’m seeing Rent, Wicked and a special cinema screening of Broadway musical Newsies