Exclusive Interview with Dreamgirls Director Casey Nicholaw

With September just around the corner we're now one month closer to one of the West End's most exciting openings of 2016. The long awaited West End premiere of Dreamgirls takes place at the Savoy Theatre on 13 December 2016 with previews from 19 November and will be the first London production of the show in its thirty-five year history.

Having already found out more about the role of Effie in our exclusive interview with leading lady Amber Riley, we spoke to director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw to hear more about the physical production itself and what London audiences can expect from this UK premiere. After delighting London audiences once this year with his production of Aladdin, Nicholaw returns to the West End with his favourite show of all time:

Casey, What’s your history with ‘Dreamgirls’?

Casey: ‘Dreamgirls’ always has and always will be my favorite show of all time. When I was in London for ‘The Book of Mormon’, Sonia Friedman walked up to me and said “I just got the rights to ‘Dreamgirls’. Do you wanna do it?”. I was like “Are you kidding me?!”. Between winning an Olivier and getting the rights to ‘Dreamgirls’ it was one of the best days of my life. When I moved to New York in 1982 it was one of the first shows I saw: I went about six times! I always paid for standing room because I couldn’t afford to go, but now here we are and it means the world to me.

How will this version of ‘Dreamgirls’ be different?

Casey: I’m really excited to honor the original ‘Dreamgirls’ but make it fresh at the same time. We’re making lots of little changes here and there. Also the set will be amazing!

Can you tell me more about the set?

Casey: In the original Broadway production the set was like nothing anyone had ever seen before. It was all about the director moving people around and being on stage then being off stage, just moving these light towers around, very cinematic and something that people had never seen before. We’re honouring that cinematic quality but the technology available nowadays means we can have lights everywhere and all around you. It’s going to be really exciting and very beautiful to watch.

In his review of ‘Dreamgirls’ in The New York Times, Frank Rich said, “….Broadway history was made in the first act of ‘Dreamgirls’”.

Casey: I think something really historic about ‘Dreamgirls’ is at the end of act one when Effie is telling you “I’m not going”. It’s one of the first times you heard that kind of raw emotion on stage, and such pain and such heart, and a long song. She had the audience eating out of her hand and I’ll never forget it. It was the first time I’ve seen an audience stand up in the middle of a show for a performer.

Amber Riley has been cast as Effie. How did she get involved?

Casey: Amber’s was the first name that my agent brought up and I agreed straight away. From that point we always talked about her doing the role, even before she had agreed! We were totally, totally excited.

At the beginning of the show, Effie and the girls are trying to break into the music world which was primarily white at the time. Not only that but they were three women trying to succeed in a male-dominated profession.

Casey: They had everything going against them because back then you needed to be white to be more successful and more mainstream. Effie struggles against that and it keeps her strong: she holds onto her voice and her soul and her passion and the other girls kind of lose that.

Effie’s is a story about underdogs. Why do audiences relate to them so broadly?

Casey: Everybody can relate to an underdog story. Whatever their strengths and successes many people feel like underdogs, so they relate in a Cinderella story kind of way.

Why did ‘Dreamgirls’ excite you as a Director and Choreographer?

Casey: ‘Dreamgirls’ moved in a different way than other shows had. It was pretty seamless. People know the movie but they also know the cast album which only has about a third of the music on it. The show is almost sung through and there’s so much great music in it and so much of the show was about transitioning from scene to scene and that’s what I’m excited about. As a choreographer it was interesting to see them telling a story through the transitions in the dance which are just as important as the numbers themselves.

You have a colourful catalogue of productions you’ve done on Broadway. Are you excited at the prospect of having three shows running in the West End by the end of the year?

Casey: I’m very excited that ‘Dreamgirls’ will be joining ‘Aladdin’ and ‘The Book of Mormon’ in London! I’m also used to doing original musicals from scratch: starting from the beginning and making something up out of an idea or out of a book or a movie, and this is the first time that I get to do something that’s considered a revival. It will be great because i’ll really be able to focus on the show and what’s already on the page and how to make that better without having to get new pages every day and figure out how to solve problems. ‘Dreamgirls’ isn’t broken. It will be really fun for me to focus on all of you and to focus on the really fantastic material and how to keep telling the story and how to keep telling the story for now.

Read more about Casey Nicholaw's career here.

Dreamgirls begins performances at the Savoy Theatre on 19 November 2016.

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