As Dreamgirls opens in the West End we speak to original star Sheryl Lee Ralph

We speak to original Dreamgirls cast member Sheryl Lee Ralph.


After 35 years of waiting, the original London production of Dreamgirls officially opens at the Savoy Theatre in London this evening, 14 December 2016.

The musical, which features music by Henry Krieger and lyrics and book by Tom Eyen, originally opened on Broadway on 20 December 1981 where it ran to 11 August 1985, closing after 1,521 performances. The original production starred Sheryl Lee Ralph as Deena Jones, Jennifer Holliday as Effie White, Loretta Devine as Lorrell Robinson, Ben Harney as Curtis Taylor Jnr, and Obba Babatundé as C. C. White.

We spoke to original cast member Sheryl Lee Ralph and asked her what she thought London audiences could expect from the musical having never previously been seen in the West End.

Sheryl Lee Ralph: "Well, that is a very interesting and tricky question. ‘Wicked’ went to London and they didn’t think it would work and now, 10 years later, it is still going strong. ‘The Color Purple’ originally premiered in the States, went to London and came back as a brand new production that was a bigger hit than the original American version. ‘Dreamgirls’ has never played London, but now, 35 years later, it’s going across the pond and I don’t know what to expect! Will it come back better? Will it come back different? I just don’t know. But if they have the bones of the original Broadway musical, it can only be better. I hope that in the Spring I’ll get to come over to London and see the West End company. December 20th is the 35th Anniversary of ‘Dreamgirls’ and I wish I had been able to be there for that exact date in London. I know they’ll do something special."

Sheryl Lee Ralph in the original production of Dreamgirls

Speaking as someone who is extremely close to the production, we asked if she had any words of encouragement for Amber Riley and the rest of the West End cast:

"I love Amber! I’ve known Amber for quite some time. Every year that I do “Divas Simply Singing,” which is the longest consecutive-running, musical AIDS benefit in the United States, she is one of those young voices that I can always call on to volunteer her time and talent. So I’m so happy that she is there in London in the West End, bringing ‘Dreamgirls’ to life and I only wish her love, laughter, and never apologize for talent because talent is a gift!"

Amber Riley is joined by a cast that also includes Tyrone Huntley as C.C White, Adam J Bernard as Jimmy, Nicholas Bailey as Marty, Joe Aaron Reid as Curtis Taylor Jnr, Liisi LaFontaine as Deena, Ibinabo Jack as Lorrell and Lily Frazer as Michelle Morris.

Ms. Ralph's counterpart in the UK production of Dreamgirls Liisi LaFontaine also spoke about the pressures of living up to expectation in the role, commenting that she looked to Sheryl Lee Ralph's performance for inspiration:

"I haven't watched the movie since I booked it, I'd worry how people were comparing the two. The musical did come first so I look more at Sheryl Lee Ralph and the artists of the 60s and the 70s rather than looking at Beyoncé in the movie. I feel like I have a similar tone to Beyoncé so I don't want people to think that I'm copying her. It is added pressure but I feel people want to see it done well, they're coming with expectations but it is warm – I never feel judged by the audience. It's a fun challenge to bring your own thing to it.”

The West End premiere of Dreamgirls opens tonight at the Savoy Theatre. Check back from 11pm for our full review.

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