Review: A Souped-Up ‘Dreamgirls’ Roars in London

It takes as much confidence as talent to stand out in this “Dreamgirls,” which opened late last year. Mr. Nicholaw’s reinterpretation of Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger’s 1981 show, a sort of morality musical about the price of success for black singers of the 1960s forced to pander to white audiences, is so high energy that you may feel like taking a nap almost as soon as it starts.

But Mr. Nicholaw, the director and choreographer, and his top-drawer design team aren’t about to let you nod off. The show’s look is all high-sheen glitter and gloss, as if the set (by Tim Hatley) as well as the costumes (by Gregg Barnes) were made up of sequins and lamé, klieg-lighted to blind (by Hugh Vanstone).

It has also been amplified to deafen. And the choreography, at its pulsing best in the athletic set piece “Steppin’ to the Bad Side,” has enough furious precision to keep you in a vicarious sweat.

The show comes roaring at you like a souped-up, chrome-plated luxury sedan (perhaps the “Cadillac Car” of the show’s savvy hymn to aspirational marketing). Mr. Nicholaw’s production practices the gospel of razzle-dazzle showbiz that is preached by its leading catalyst (and villain), a double-dealing manager named Curtis Taylor Jr. (the snake-hipped Aaron Reid).

This “Dreamgirls” isn’t subtle, and it doesn’t have the iconoclastic impact of Michael Bennett’s original Broadway staging. But it makes a convincing case for this portrait of a Supremes-like singing group as an enduring, crowd-rousing entertainment with a terrific pastiche score.

The fever of being hungry, talented and thwarted — as it’s experienced by black R&B singers with mainstream dreams in a culturally segregated America — glows from every element of this version. Eager ambition is cannily used as the production’s revved-up motor.

Sometimes the show’s…

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