It has taken 34 years for the stage production of the award winning American musical, Dreamgirls, to make it to Australia.
The reaction from the crowd on opening night at Melbourne’s Chapel off Chapel suggests we were well and truly ready! There were cheers all round – and a well deserved standing ovation – for a highly energetic and thoroughly enjoyable production.
Dreamgirls tells the story of ‘The Dreams’, an up-and-coming 1960s female singing group – inspired by the career of Diana Ross and The Supremes – as they experience the triumphs and tribulations that accompany their pursuit of fame and fortune in the tumultuous music industry.
It all begins when three friends – Effie White, Deena Jones and Lorrell Robinson – enter an amateur competition at the Apollo Theatre in New York. While they were never going to win (due to the biased way the music industry operated at the time) they get their big break -singing backup vocals for a major star, Jimmy Thunder Early. However, as their own fame grows, things begin to spin out of control. The business manoeuvres of their agent, Curtis Taylor Jr, trump their friendship, and their success takes them down a path of heartbreak and turmoil.
A winner of six US Tony Awards and two Grammy Awards, Dreamgirls premiered on Broadway in 1981 and was the basis for an award-winning film starring Jennifer Hudson, Beyonce Knowles and Jamie Foxx.
Apparently one of the challenges involved in staging the production in Australia has been casting the roles appropriately – given it’s a story about African American performers. Independent production company StageArt and director Terence O’Connell have overcome this by assembling a cast of young, enthusiastic multicultural Australian performers who, if their performances on opening night are anything to go by, already have or will have long and successful careers.
Leading the way on opening night was Thando Sikwila, a powerful and emotive performer, who plays Effie, the original lead of the group who eventually suffers a falling out with other members once the group changes its musical direction. Anna Francesca Armenia, who played Deena was also excellent, along with other members of the group – Zenya Carmellotti as Lorelle and Sharon Wills as Michelle (Effie’s replacement in the group).
Strong performances were also given by Winston Hillyer as Curtis, Gareth Jacobs as Jimmy and Djon Alexander as CC. Supporting the lead actors was an enthusiastic ensemble cast and an excellent nine piece band.
Another highlight of the show was the 150 costumes. These costumes, together with the music, illustrated the changes the group went through in terms of musical styles and the progressing times. The production features hits by Academy Award nominee Henry Krieger – including And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going, One Night Only and Listen.
The intimate nature of the theatre also added to the enjoyment of the night, helping the audience feel they were part of the show.
Dreamgirls is on until June 14. Visit Chapel off Chapel for tickets and more information or ring 03 8290 7000.
*Jenny Burns attended the opening night of Dreamgirls as a guest of StageArt.