Going into this production my excitement was considerably limited. I had discovered the day before that Amber Riley had been diagnosed with pneumonia and would not be performing. Being a big fan of the television show, Glee, this was a disappointing blow and I am ashamed to say that a small part of me really wanted to hate the production so that I would feel vindicated in my sadness.
The producers of the West End debut of Broadway hit Dreamgirls, which opened at the Savoy Theatre on 19th November 2016, had flown in Marisha Wallace to fill Riley’s shoes, presumably in an effort to quell any angry ticket holders asking for their money back. Wallace is a Broadway vet, recently starring in Something Rotten! and has played the role of Effie before. On walking into the theatre we were reassured by members of staff that Wallace was just as good if not better than Riley. “Yeah, right,” I scoffed.
Well boy did I learn a lesson or two last night. Marisha Wallace was simply outstanding.
Her voice has a deep, soulful, gut-wrenching quality that captivates and outshines everyone else in the room. On hearing the rest of the cast sing there is no denying their skill and talent, and then Wallace opens her mouth. Her performance of Effie White had comedy, raw emotion and so much attitude. I did not want to like her but I just could not help but fall a little bit in love.
Of course, the real test of the portrayer of Effie has to be the closing number of the first act, ‘And I’m Telling You…’. Its a song that won Jennifer Hudson an Academy Award and requires so much emotional intensity as well as powerhouse vocals.
If the spontaneous standing ovation at the end of the first act is anything to go by, Wallace was no disappointment. It was truly and utterly deserved and the tears streaming down everyone’s faces a testament to her awe-inspiring talent.
This performance alone made this production worth seeing. That being said, the show as a whole is probably the best thing I have seen on the West End in a long time. There is never a dull moment nor a weak member of the cast. Its a production that draws you in, with characters you cannot help but invest in, so much so that by the end they were whooping in encouragement.
Aside from the Act 1 closing number, the best performance of the night has to go to ‘Steppin’ to the Bad Side’, showcasing the delicious talent of Joe Aaron Reid in the role of sleazy and morally dubious manager, Curtis Taylor Jr. His vocals and dance moves ooze sex appeal whilst the dance number as a whole is so captivating and so gruelling we could see the sweat flying off the dancers’ heads as they flew from one step to the next.
Its a joyful, thrilling demonstration of the best that show business has to offer. The stagecraft and set designs allow the frequent shifts between onstage and backstage drama to be slick and seamless, whilst the costumes are so colourful and glittering just looking at the stage is a sight to behold.
I am sure Amber Riley will be back to show off her vocal prowess in a few days and all reports of her performance are glowing (I will certainly be returning to see her soon). However, for those “unfortunate” ones like myself, my promise to you is that you are in no way missing out, in fact you are one of the lucky few, graced with the presence of Marisha Wallace as she commands the stage.