In this line of work, I’ve seen countless performances at the Empire, but possibly none quite so strong vocally as Nicole Raquel Dennis as the fiercely-uncompromising Effie White, one third of the Dreamgirls, a trio of friends who have to navigate the highs and lows of the music industry in the 1960s as they step from the shadows of a male performer as stars in their own right.
She certainly had some big shoes to fill, with Jennifer Hudson winning an Oscar for the same role in the 2006 film version – but fill them she did, and then some.
This is a musical with a really strong score, and Nicole’s version of the anthemic And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going was executed with true passion, power and a compelling conviction. How she didn’t win The Voice in 2019 with that vocal range I do not know, but TV talent show’s loss is musical theatre’s gain.
She’s not the only star, however, in this well-told story of the perils of fame. Holly Liburd dazzled as Deena Jones, providing another stand out number with Listen, a track written and made famous by Beyoncé. Again, she really brings the message of the song, an expression of independence from a controlling man, home with her goosebump-inducing performance.
Completing the talented trio is Paige Preddie as Lorrell Robinson who brings some balance, as well as some more belting vocals, to the glamorous group.
The musical numbers come thick and fast in this show, as do the costume changes – some of which are done in the blink of an eye.
The Dreamgirl dresses are a sparkly, feathery, fishtail gown dream, (what I wouldn’t give to play dress up in that wardrobe department) but also help to convey that all that glitters isn’t gold as the girls’ friendships are fractured by svengali Curtis Taylor’s (Dom Hartley-Harris) ambitions to have the R’n’B performers break the pop charts with a more commercial sound.
While this is very much a female-dominated musical, a refreshing change from the usual trope of a boy meets girls love story, there’s also some really strong male leads. Brandon Lee Sears was brilliantly energetic as snake-hipped soul singer Jimmy Early, who’s a real bundle of energy as he makes love to the mic and jump splits his way across the stage in numbers such as I Meant You No Harm and Fake Your Way to the Top.
What makes the musical resonate all the more, is that it’s based, albeit loosely, on Diana Ross and the Supremes, and portrays a real message of authenticity and self expression, which makes for a supreme night at the theatre indeed.
:: Dreamgirls is at Sunderland Empire until Saturday, March 5 2022. Tickets are available from the Ticket Centre on 0844 871 7615* or online at www.ATGtickets.com/sunderland