Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Wednesday 7th December, 2022
There are many shows that chart the highs and lows of the business we call show, detailing the rise and fall of musical artistes, often involving real-life dead singers. This one focusses on a fictional Motown-style girl group and adheres pretty much to the same storytelling formula, touching upon white exploitation of black music, and male exploitation of female performers.
Three young women meet a manager/con artist who gets them a gig as backing singers to an established star. Eventually, the group get to headline their own shows, make records, appear on television. Conflict arises when the manager changes the line-up so the ‘best-looking’ girl gets to front the group, while the one with the strongest voice is relegated to backing vocals. These machinations culminate in a blistering Act One closing number, delivered by Nicole Raquel Dennis as the side-lined Effie, whose rendition of And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going brings the house to its feet and is quite possibly the most impassioned performance you could ever hope to hear.
Dennis is a powerful presence throughout, exhibiting Effie’s diva behaviour and that searing, soaring voice. Playing the other two girls are Natalie Kassanga as Deena (the pretty one) and Paige Peddie as Lorrell (the funny one). They each get their moments to shine both musically and dramatically.
As the manipulative manager Curtis Taylor Jr, Matt Mills embodies the male attitudes of the time: the women are merely a product for him to package and sell. With his rich singing voice, he is a pleasure to hate. Brandon Lee Sears is a pleasure to like as womanising soul singer Jimmy Early; with all the moves and the vocal dynamics, Sears delivers a star turn.
Tim Hatley’s set evokes nightclubs, TV studios, Las Vegas, all through geometric patterns, while his costumes are glitzy and glamorous – especially the gowns worn by the girls.
The songs are credible pastiches, played live by a fantastic band under the baton of Simona Budd, but of course it’s the singers who command our attention. You can’t fault the production values or the performances, but for me the material is a little too formulaic, containing no surprises to lift it beyond the run-of-the-mill showbiz story.
All in all though, it’s a hugely impressive, entertaining evening in the company of Supremely talented performers who work hard to deserve their ovations.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Diverting divas: Paige Peddie, Natalie Kassanga, and Nicole Raquel Dennis