Ok so if you’ve got this far you’ve probably read the title, so… IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This article is in no way intended against Amber Riley, who I believe to be amazingly talented with a killer voice, it’s just a shame that the show has fallen victim to commercial star casting in order to sell tickets and it’s not her fault at all – and props to her, she was in the casting directors eyes, perfect for the role and fair enough, this is a semi-rant about theatregoers – the people are at fault here. The people are forgetting this is the premiere of a cult hit musical that we’ve waited over three decades for, so it baffles me that people don’t want to go on a Wednesday night because that girl who has been around on a T.V. show for five minutes isn’t on. Get a grip! She wasn’t even born when the show opened! But anyway, here are my top 5 reasons why a show of this caliber deserves all of the current West End glory:
5. Sonia Freidman
Hats off to her, she was determined to bring this show to the West End, For years she had been trying, and it finally happened. From what I’ve heard she doesn’t sound like the nicest of people, but she’s worked hard and she knows what she wants, and if she wants it hard enough, it will happen. Proof.
4. The legacy
35 years London has been waiting for this show. December 20, 1981 marked the opening night on Broadway and ever since then, and even more so after the 2007 movie adaptation, theatregoers have been demanding a West End premiere. It took until December 15, 2016 for the show to open at the Savoy Theatre and it’s already one of the biggest shows currently playing, taking millions of advance sales, and rightfully so. The show as a whole, while maybe not the most complex story, is, excuse the pun, an absolute ‘dream’. And besides, who hasn’t heard “And I’m Telling You..” , it’s an institution of the musical theatre catalogue?!
3. Karen Mav
I mean need I say more. Ok maybe I do since she hasn’t been on Glee. Ok. So, Karen Mav is Amber Riley’s alternate. Well, there are actually now three alternates since Broadway’s Marisha Wallace has joined the cast, but so far it seems Karen is the first to go on when Amber is off, be it the scheduled Wednesday evenings, or unplanned absence. And having seen the show one week after opening, so a Wednesday evening, I was treated to this unknown’s performance. And was blown away. I cannot believe this is her professional stage and acting debut. There was so much sass and gravitas to her performance I almost fell out of my chair whenever she opened her mouth – probably because the chair was so damn uncomfortable and falling apart – but anyway, it’s just a shame she’s being overshadowed is all.
I dislike it when people don’t understand that understudies are just as talented, if not more so, than the lead performer, and besides you could be seeing a future star before they become the star. Our first Queen of Green, Kerry Ellis started off as an understudy, and now look…people complain when she’s not on! I think people just like complaining in general.
2. The company as a whole
I could not praise this ensemble of actors more if I tried. And I’m glad the show has come along when it has because of this cast, mainly with people from the first cast of In the Heights which is perfect!
Jocasta Almgill continues to be the go-to female understudy, as she was in Heights. She was covering Lorrell when I saw it – only her second full* show in the role and she smashed it. Joe Aaron Reid as Curtis Taylor, Jr., who continues to impress me with his stage presence and crystal clear voice and the inhuman vocals of Adam J. Bernard was another crowd pleaser. It was a little shame that star-in-the-making Tyrone Huntley isn’t given much to do, because he is phenomenal – if you saw him in Memphis or Jesus Christ Superstar at Regent’s Park Open Air, you would know!
One of the stars of the show for me was Liisi LaFontaine as Deena Jones. I mean, not only is she super hot, she’s super talented. Her song “Listen” brought the house down, and rightfully so!
And then of course, the glue keeping everything together, the ensemble!! Every single one of them deserving of their own standing ovation!
*Almgill made her debut in the role mid-show the night before! Legend!
1. The music
For me, a show is all about the music! That and the performances are what I connect to the most! And this show has it in buckets! Not only is “And I’m Telling You” iconic, the rest of the score is hit after hit. Every scene of the show is packed with either a big, powerful song or a memorable orchestral motif, and I love shows like that, it makes you want to revisit them again and again. Particular showstoppers when I saw the show included “I am Changing,” and the newly added “Listen”. I particularly enjoyed the woman shouting “sing gurl!” behind me which caused Liisi to smirk as she held back laughter. Man, live theatre is the best! Not to mention, both audience applause’s began as the final big notes were sung as well as a few during the songs themselves – that’s when you know you’ve got a crowd pleaser!
Some people ask me why I see a show again if I’ve already seen it. And I love going to see the same show over and over again, because it’s different every time even if the cast is exactly the same. But if not, I get to see how someone else does the role and I’m amazed every time. I’ve been fortunate to see some incredible understudies, who have worked just as hard, trained just as long to get where they are, and deserve that equal credit.
In short, go see Dreamgirls – with or without Amber it doesn’t matter – because the show stands on its own. 35 years we’ve waited, and it’s finally here!