Dreamgirls: Original London Cast Recording
Music By: Henry Krieger
Lyrics and Book By: Tom Eyen
Distributed by: Masterworks Broadway
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
As a kid, I could remember watching commercials for the Broadway musical, Dreamgirls. I remember that this musical was a big deal and that some big-name actors and actresses – names like Jennifer Holliday, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Cleavant Derricks - starred in Dreamgirls over the course of its run. I also remember some of the songs that made it big. Years later, a movie starring Beyonce Knowles, Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy earned awards.
And yet, though I knew the basics of who starred in the musical, how many awards it won, the significance of the mostly African-American cast, which wasn’t much heard of prior to this musical, I really didn’t know much about the musical’s story – what was it about? Happily, I was recently given a chance to learn just that with the receipt of the Original London Cast Recording of Dreamgirls for review. Dreamgirls opened at the Savoy Theatre in December 2016 and featured Amber Riley, Liisi LaFontaine, Ibinabo Hack, JoeAaron Reid, Adam J. Bernard, Tyrone Huntley, Nicholas Bailey, Lily Frazer and more. The album was recorded live in its entirety at the Savoy.
Now, as I listened to the songs, I began to learn what Dreamgirls was all about. Set during the 1960s and 1970s, a trio from Chicago named the Dreamettes make their entry into Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, hoping to make it big. They lose the talent show, but meet an ambitious car salesman who becomes their manager. Convincing James “Thunder” Early, a popular R&B star and his manager to hire the Dreamettes as his back-up singers. Their initial song, Fake Your Way to the Top, is a success, but their second number (Cadillac Car) together is stolen by a white group. The managers resort to payola to make Steppin' to the Bad Side a hit. Curtis starts moving in on James Early, pushing his manager out. And to make things more complicated, Curtis starts dating Effie, while the married James starts making moves on Lorell.
Curtis becomes bored with Effie and enamored with Deena, moving her up to lead singer. Effie has been missing shows and Curtis, convincing the girls to go it on their own without James Early, also convinces them that Effie is sabotaging the group. He replaces her with a new singer named Michelle. But Effie has been hiding a secret about her relationship with Curtis that she refuses to reveal until much later in the musical. Meanwhile, the Dreams are doing wonderful, but Deena wants more, hoping for an acting career. Curtis refuses to allow that to happen. When Effie tries for a solo comeback with a soulful ballad, One Night Only, Curtis is there to sabotage it with some more payola, moving the Dreams version of the same song. Meanwhile, things are going sour for Jimmy Early in the music world and his refusal to leave his wife and marry Lorell causes Lorell to move on. Deena starts to realize what Curtis is all about, especially after learning Effie’s secret. The group decides to end the Dreams, but not without one final concert…one in which Effie rejoins the group for a final song.
I was delighted to find Amber Riley in the role of Effie. This was a role performed by Jennifer Holliday and Jennifer Hudson…a role which calls for the performance of the most famous song from the musical, And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going. You have to have great pipes for that song and I knew Amber had them, having watched her on Glee and marveling at her talent. The blend of vocals from the Dreams (Riley, LaFontaine and Jack) are amazing. Adam J. Bernard is spot on in the role of the hyperactive, playboy R&B singer Jimmy Early. The music was terrific, the songs are amazing and the story is believable. I loved every minute of the two-CD, 28-track album that is the Dreamgirls: Original London Cast Recording. Listening to this album, I wished I had seen the musical on Broadway. I will have to check out the movie just to get a taste of what it is like visually, but musically, this album definitely comes highly recommended!