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Wednesday, March 30, 2011


(Pic by Showtime Management: Candida Mosoma, Tracey Lee Oliver and Lindiwe Bungane)

If the technology of U2, Madonna and Pink impresses you, this will blow you away … and the performances are equally fantastic! (Review by Caroline Smart)

The redoubtable Hazel Feldman, who has brought numerous mega productions to South Africa, has done it again! After a four-year period of “nagging”, she eventually persuaded Broadway producer John Breglio to bring Dreamgirls here, making South Africa the first country outside the USA to see this newly revived show.

The American production team, including Director/Choreographer Robert Longbottom, Sam Davis (International Music Supervisor), Brittney Griffin (Associate Director/Choreographer) and the host of impressive technical luminaries worked closely with the South African cast and crew over a period of seven weeks. Running the show now are Philip Godawa as Resident Director and Bryan Schimmel as Music Supervisor with Tshepo Mngoma as Musical Director and Alistair Kilbee as Technical Director.

Dreamgirls started off as a musical which debuted on Broadway in 1981 and it went on to dominate the Tony Awards. Inspired by black R&B performers such as The Supremes, it was later made into a film before its recent US revival.

The story tells the rags-to-riches story of an up and coming girl group, The Dreamettes, which changes its name as its success grows. They enter a talent competition and, not knowing that the results have been fixed, end up with an offer to work as back-up singers for the star James “Thunder” Early – excellently portrayed by Bjorn Blignaut.

Initially refusing to work as a back-up artiste, the lead singer Effie White eventually relents but it’s rocky road for her from here on until she is eventually dropped from the group. Lindiwe Bungane puts in a power-plus dramatic and vocal performance full of passion and energy as Effie claws her way back up to the top. Her ten minute singing marathon of survival, And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going, had the audience spellbound. This number should have ended the first half on a superlative high note but was somewhat diluted by bringing in another scene.

Tracey Lee Oliver is equally impressive as Deena Jones who becomes the group’s lead singer, her tall slim body showing off the glamorous costumes to good effect. Candida Mosoma as Lorrell and Hayley Christian as Michelle handle their spunky roles well, the former playing a tricky dramatic scene with control and credibility.

Aubrey Poo is in consistently fine form as the manipulative Curtis Taylor, Jr while Lebo Toko gains sympathy as the struggling writer, C.C. White. Shane ‘Duke’ Wellington is memorable as the group’s former manager, Marty Madison, and Mortimer Williams brings his comedy skills to the roles of Jerry and MC.

This is a fast-moving production and the performers never let the pace flag. Some costume changes are executed so quickly, they leave you breathless.

Hazel Feldman maintains that outside of the USA, South Africa is the only country in the world that can mount an all-black, English production of Dreamgirls” and I think she’s right. Accents and voice modulations are accurate under the careful guidance of dialogue coaches Gina Shmukler and Kate Normington and I had to keep reminding myself that I was watching South African actors and not their African American counterparts.

Set in the 1960's, Dreamgirls is a visual extravaganza with a prize-winning cast of singers and dancers that involves some 450 costumes – most of them spectacular, elegant and glamorous - created by award-winning American costume designer William Ivey Long. And there are no less than 180 wigs!.

Further breathtaking imagery comes from the show’s impressive technology with superb lighting by Ken Billington and a set that – apart from a piano that appears once and some transparent props that create a dressing room counter - consists of nothing more than a series of LED screens. These revolve collectively or independently, fly out of sight and move forwards or backwards. They twist to give the idea of watching a show from the wings, which is an important part of the storyline. The screens are a class act in themselves - an engineer’s dream!

The morning after I saw the show, Bryan Hill (Teatro’s General Manager) kindly took me up to the fly tower so that I could see the workings of the LED panels, the huge trussed grid and the vast amount of computer equipment and cabling that takes over the wings OP side. Two cast members were sick, so there was a rehearsal for the understudies for the afternoon and evening’s performances – and one of them was Londiwe Dhlomo who understudies the role of Deena. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay to see her perform but Bryan Hill reported that she gave a great performance and that it was lovely to see the excellence of the production carried through to her own interpretation of this larger than life role.

Bryan Hill went on to say: “This show is a landmark in the history of South African musical theatre productions and I’ve been in the business for some 30 years. Dreamgirls is very rare for South Africa - and it’s not just for audiences who love music entertainment but for those who will be fascinated by its technical capacity. Montecasino is positioned to constantly be at the cutting edge of the entertainment and hospitality industry and this groundbreaking production at the Teatro reinforces this.”

The vision of the production is to ensure that many members of this cast will be able to star internationally in other Dreamgirls productions around the world. So, watch out, world – here we come!

Dreamgirls is running at the Teatro at Montecasino in Johannesburg until May 8 with possible extensions until May 22. So if Johannesburg is your nearest venue, then don't miss it. Thereafter the show moves to Artscape, Cape Town, to open on June 8 for a limited season. Book at Computicket outlets, visit or call 083 915 8000. For more information, visit or Facebook. – Caroline Smart

I took advantage of the Show & Stay Package – a separate review of the Southern Sun Montecasino hotel experience to follow. More information on this package at