Amber Riley, a powerhouse talent on Glee, will make her stage debut in the West End premiere of Dreamgirls, the dazzling musical loosely based on the rise of the Supremes.
The actress, who played soul diva Mercedes Jones on six seasons of Glee, auditioned for — and won — the central role of Effie in the show, which producer Sonia Friedman confirmed would start previews at the Savoy Theatre in November, with an official first night in December. (Precise dates will be determined by mid-March, when tickets go on sale.)
The original opened on Broadway more than 30 years ago, when Frank Rich of the New York Times likened its effect on the audience to a ‘seismic emotional jolt’. Friedman acquired the rights a year ago.
The producer revealed that Amber flew from her home in Los Angeles late last year to meet Dreamgirls’ director, Casey Nicholaw, in New York. He’s the man who directed the smash hit success The Book Of Mormon and the West End-bound Disney musical Aladdin.
And, after New York, she met Friedman in London. One of the numbers she sang for both of them was And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going, the soaring, soulful siren showstopper in which Effie tells Curtis, her Lothario lover (and manager of the Dreams, the group in which Effie is the lead singer), that she wants to stay with the girl trio.
I saw the first Effie, Jennifer Holliday, sing that song on Broadway three decades ago, and the audience rose as one and raised the roof. I watched Amber sing it in Glee’s first season, and she seemed as possessed as Holliday was.
Friedman said she felt the same tingling feeling when Amber sang it for her in London.
‘I was crying, because I was overwhelmed by the emotion and passion she put into the number,’ she told me.
‘And also crying with utter excitement and pure joy, relief and happiness that this girl was going to be able to give this performance in the UK. Her voice is a gift from God!’
One of the reasons Dreamgirls has not been seen on stage in London is because of the difficulty in finding an extraordinary artist to play Effie. Hundreds of young women auditioned for the part last year in the capital, but only a handful came close to showing they had what it takes to play the part.
But Amber’s arrival has given Dreamgirls the green light. Last night Amber, who wasn’t available to speak to me directly, issued a statement saying how honoured and excited she was to be playing the ‘iconic’ role, and working with Friedman and Nicholaw. She added that working in the West End is now ‘a dream realised’.
‘I just feel like this is going to be something special!’ she added. With book and lyrics by Tom Eyen and music by Henry Krieger, the musical opens in Sixties Detroit.
It charts the rise to the top of the Dreams, from amateur schoolgirls to international stardom; mirroring, to an extent, the success of The Supremes, and Diana Ross’s affair with Motown chieftain Berry Gordy.
By strange coincidence, the musical Motown — about the real-life Supremes and others in the Tamla Motown stable — begins performances at the Shaftesbury Theatre next week.
By no means can they be called competitors — they’re very different shows.
Dreamgirls will arrive at the Savoy with a reputation as one of the best musicals of the past half-century.
Nicholaw will choreograph as well as direct, with Tim Hatley creating sets; while Gregg Barnes is in negotiations to design costumes.
This new Dreamgirls won’t be a replica of what I saw at the Imperial Theatre, but a complete re-imagining of a rare classic.
Jennifer Hudson won an Oscar when she played Effie in the 2006 movie based on the show. The song Listen, from the film, will be interpolated into the London stage show’s second act.
Casting on key roles continues and it’s likely that many parts will be played by British talent. Rehearsals will begin in October. Visit: http://ift.tt/1Sw7d8z