Album Review: Dreamgirls Original London Cast Recording (2017)


“The time has come for my dreams to be heard”

That it took so long for the UK premiere of Dreamgirls to arrive (35 years after its original Broadway opening), it is little surprise to see that it has taken a mere few months for the Original London Cast Recording to appear, released by Sony Masterworks Broadway today (Friday 12th May). Capitalising on the show’s extraordinary success at the Savoy (read my review here) and the two Olivier Awards wins for Amber Riley (Best Actress in a Musical) and Adam J. Bernard (Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical), this double-album was recorded live in the theatre over four performances in February 2017 with no additional studio re-recordings or musical overdubs.

The choice to go for a live recording is an interesting one. There’s an undoubted raw energy that comes from the material not just being sung but being performed that makes certain numbers really pop. And then there’s the double-edged sword that is the audience reception – on the one hand it can be spine-tingling effective to hear how enthusiastically the work is being received but on the other, it doesn’t always translate without the accompanying visual and let’s be honest, the recording doesn’t gain anything from having Amber Riley’s entrance applause so volubly present.

But produced by composer Henry Krieger and mixed by Andy Bradfield, it is hard to resist the full-throated ambition of the music from Nick Finlow’s 14-strong band, the striking vocals that threaten to outshine even the one million Swarovski crystals used in the show and the iconic nature of a score, so much of which has seeped into the collective consciousness despite the show never having played in the UK before. 

So Riley really does smash it out of the park in the soaring ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’; with Liisi LaFontaine’s Deena (who, perhaps predictably, deserves more plaudits), she melds vivaciously and harmoniously on ‘Listen’; and with Ibinabo Jack and Lily Frazer joining LaFontaine in The Dreams Mark II, the ecstatic take on ‘One Night Only’ becomes close to the source of life itself. Yes, I might have opted for a studio session over a live recording, but it’s still something of a thrill to have this album now available (to soundtrack any number of lip-syncs for your LIFE!).

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