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Posts Tagged ‘Amber Riley’

Another show I wasn’t planning to see, this time because I caught it less than three years ago on my travels in Portland, Oregon. Then I read the reviews…..

It’s the story of a black girl group in the 60’s and 70’s, from talent show to backing singers to R&B chart success to their transfer to the mainstream. Along the way, lead singer Effie is replaced by a slimmer, paler model and eventually quits and manager Curtis gets too big for his boots, transforming from manipulator to bully and losing his lead singer / wife. The girls, and stablemate Jimmy Early, succeed in crossing over to the mainstream, but at the expense of their soul roots. Meanwhile, Effie makes a solo comeback and finds herself in a chart competition with her former group with the same song, but it’s not a fair race thanks to Curtis’ dirty tricks. Though the writers deny it (no doubt concerned about the legal consequences), it appears to be based on the story of The Supremes. With R&B stars now the kings and queens of popular music, it’s easy to forget it was once segregated, in more ways than one, with separate charts and white cover versions outselling the originals. We’ve come a long way.

No disrespect to Portland Center Stage, a fine US regional theatre, but this West End production (it’s London premiere, 35 whole years after Broadway!) is in another league altogether, no doubt partly thanks to a mega-budget . The design team of Tim Hatley (sets), Gregg Barnes (costumes) & Hugh Vanstone (lighting) have produced a spectacular look to the show; you get a lot of bling for your ticket price. Casey Nicholaw’s staging and choreography is fresh and exciting; it sparkles like the Swarovski covered curtains and costumes. The cast of 29 and 14-piece band under Nick Finlow rock the foundations of the gorgeous Savoy Theatre, itself a jewel of Art Deco bling.

For the second time this week, I got an alternate and a cover, neither of which you’d spot if you didn’t know it. I refuse to believe Amber Riley is better than her alternate Marisha Wallace, whose powerhouse voice is extraordinary. Candace Furbert was also excellent covering as fellow Dream Lorrell and Denna(!)’s rise from backing singer to lead to ‘Deena and’, wife of Curtis, is extremely well navigated by Liisi LaFontaine . Adam J Bernard is a terrific bundle of energy as Jimmy Early and Joe Aaron Reid a fine voiced baddie as Curtis. I missed the much lauded Tyrone Huntley in the Open Air Theatre’s Jesus Christ Superstar last year and I left the theatre praying he returns this year; he too was terrific as the girls’ first manager and songwriter C. C. White.

The fourth in my five-day musicals binge, it lives up to the hype and more. The world seems ever so drab when you leave the theatre.

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