By Jim Gladstone
With rumors abuzz that the premier West End production of Dreamgirls will transfer to New York for the show’s first-ever Broadway revival sometime next year, Broadway Blog correspondent Jim Gladstone took in the spectacle at London’s Savoy theater last week to file this report…
In London, most of the chatter around the first UK staging of Dreamgirls has surrounded Amber Riley, best known from television’s Glee, in the role of Effie White. Following in the Tony- and Grammy-winning footsteps of the original production’s Jennifer Holiday and the Oscar heels of the film version’s Jennifer Hudson, Riley manages to put her own memorable spin on the beleaguered character, loosely based on Florence Ballard, who was ousted from the original lineup of the Supremes. (The part was first written for Nell Carter, who bowed out after being offered the TV sitcom Gimme A Break).
Riley works hard to avoid beatifying Effie. Her emphasis on the character’s immature, sometimes boorish self-centeredness and conscious refusal to adjust her gospel-infused singing style to meet commercial needs make Effie not so much a tragic emotional punching bag as a tough, independent spirit, slowly growing into her own. If past iterations of the show have imprinted your memory with a notion of Effie as the poor, picked-upon fat girl, Riley will shake you back into three-dimensions.