Dreamgirls review: Glee star Amber Riley yells the house down in the first Dreamgirls production to come to London

Melissa York
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This is the first time Dreamgirls has been performed in the West End, and it’s a production that’s sure to echo down the years, purely for the diabolical racket it kicks up.

The mics might have been turned up to 11 – not necessary in the tiny Savoy Theatre – but the primary source is a cast packed with vocal powerhouses frantically trying to out-Whitney each other.

It’s an odd moment to revive this musical, too; if you walk ten minutes to the Shaftesbury Theatre, you’ll see the same story is being told in Motown.

In that show, Berry Gordy narrates the rise of black music to the mainstream, whereas in Dreamgirls we see the same scenario play out from the point of view of his ex-wife Diana Ross. The Dreamettes are a thinly-veiled fiction of The Supremes who battle their way to the top of the charts in racially segregated Sixties America.

It’s a shame because the Savoy has had a successful run of Broadway revivals recently – Gypsy, Guys and Dolls, Funny Girl – using them as showboating vehicles for famous actors.

Dreamgirls is no different, with Glee star Amber Riley playing Effie, a role that won Jennifer Hudson an Oscar for the 2007 film version. She’s certainly got the pipes for it; her rendition of And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going is like being blasted by a melismatic foghorn or getting a blow dry from a jet engine.

Mostly sung, all nuance and tenderness seems to have been banished in favour of loud arguments and even louder vocal gymnastics – which is fine if you like American Idol, but awful if you’ve got ears.

When characters aren’t over-emoting about changing their life and finding their truth, they’re bickering over boyfriends and who gets to sing lead. In terms of tedious, noisey beef, Screamgirls is up there with the EastEnders Christmas special.

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