After enjoying a fantastic opening year in the West End, the multi-award-winning Dreamgirls musical is welcoming its second year and currently booking into summer 2018.
Along with its extended run, the cast has had an overhaul. With her fantastic run completed, Amber Riley who won an Olivier last year for her memorable turn as Effie White has had to pass on the baton. Sonia Friedman Productions will replace her with African American actresses Marisha Wallace & Moya Angela and British singer/actress and former X Factor contestant Karen Mav who will all share the iconic role.
#TBB10 caught up with the new Effies to talk about this amazing opportunity
1# Joining the cast of Dreamgirls must be amazing. Has it been everything you expected?
Moya: This show is a lot more glamorous and upscale than previous versions I have been cast in stateside. It was magnificent when I knew I was going to move to the West End; such a big adventure for me. I live in Covent Garden and I can’t ask for anything more.
Marisha: I’ve played Effie before but this is the full dazzle version. We have all the Swarovski crystals, stunning costumes, automation. Everything is bigger, brighter, faster and funnier – that’s how Casey Nicholaw (Director) has put his spin on it.
Karen: I never underestimate how much of a job this is. The vocal athletics and the emotion drawn from telling Effie’s story, but I always feel elated at the interval when the audience is so giving, crying, standing and clapping and there with me. I get to work and live in the music every time I go onstage.
2# What was the audition process like?
Karen: Sonia Friedman the producer actually got in touch after watching me on X Factor and asked me to audition for Dreamgirls, she’s just been so supportive all the way through. I trained in Music at Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts so kind of knew what to expect from the audition but I was so nervous. The director Casey put me at ease and I just got to sing my heart out.
3# Effie does have quite a few emotionally powerful songs, can you name your favourite?
Karen: Listen and, And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going. It’s a tie. And I Am Telling You… is such a strong vocal song but no matter how many times I hear it, no matter who sings it, it’s still so moving. Listen is a beautiful coming together of Deena and Effie.
Marisha: I Am Changing. You get to see and hear all the different parts of Effie’s voice, from the loudest belts to the soft, sweet side. Whether it’s Moya, Karen or me the voice is powerful, you get to hear such a variety. We tell a complete story from beginning, middle to end, all in one song. The lyrics are so well written, it’s a stunning moment in the show.
Moya: A favourite? That’s so hard. We’re singing some of these incredible tracks like Move, Listen, And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going and One Night Only. I sometimes forget that Henry Krieger wrote all the songs for this musical and that it wasn’t released on a ’45 and people weren’t really there listening to it in the 60s.
4# How does it work sharing the role between you all and how do you take care of your voices?
Karen: All three of us have our own way of telling the story, and singing the songs, no Effie is the same. After a year of being in the show I’ve learned to have a structure; I want the audience to feel like they’ve got the best performance so I make sure I rest my voice and steam every day.
Moya: We’re ‘Team Effie’. The West End is excited to receive some really big voices.
Marisha: It’s a very demanding role, I think it’s the biggest sing in musical theatre. With any muscle you have to train it and make sure you look after it – we’re vocal athletes. I prepare, I work out, I have a vocal coach. Much like opera singers we share the role across the week so each audience gets everything we got.
5# There have been a lot of cast changes, does it feel like a new show or is there a feeling that you’re fitting into an established production?
Marisha: It’s given the show a new life, and been reinvigorated. We’ve taken the show to the next level.
6# Was acting always the dream?
Marisha: The first production I ever saw was Simone in Aida on Broadway. There was this beautiful black actress leading the whole show. I didn’t know you could do that. She sang the most amazing songs and I wanted to be her. It changed my life. I’ve been performing since I graduated from college but I guess my first big show came through when I went to an open audition for The Book of Mormon. That’s the first time I met Casey Nicholaw and we just really clicked. Then Casey asked me if I wanted to be in Aladdin and that was my first Broadway show.
Moya: I went to school for music education with a focus on classical vocal training. I had a big voice and I wanted full control over it. At my final year of college, I auditioned for The Lion King. I got the part and went on tour. It was a snowball effect it was amazing. I felt that now’s my moment. Then I went on to perform in Broadway shows. I’ve always been dramatic. I was able to take just who I am as a person and put it all together, I love singing so it made the most sense to me.
7# Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Marisha: I love to dance around in my dressing room or backstage to get my energy up before going out onstage. It helps me get into the mindset of the young Effie we see at the beginning of the show.
8# Have you had any embarrassing moments on stage?
Marisha: In the scene when Effie first meets Curtis all of us Dreamettes in the girl group are wearing this wig. There’s a gag where they swivel around so we can’t put any pins in to keep them in place. Effie is trying to act cool in front of Curtis so I spin around to walk away from him and my wig falls right off on to the floor. I’m in the moment so I just pick it up and shake it in his face.
Moya: My most embarrassing moment was at the Apollo Theatre in NYC, we were doing Dreamgirls I was playing Effie White. There was a full audience and I was singing the big number, I Am Telling You … and my trousers fell down. I just kicked them off and I just kept going. People thought it was part of the show. Luckily I was wearing a long shirt… the show must go on.
9# What’s would be your next dream production to star in?
Karen: Connecting back to my African roots, I would absolutely love to play Rafiki from The Lion King. The other one is Elphaba from Wicked, mainly because I want to sing, Defying Gravity.
Moya: That’s a tough question because Dreamgirls is at the top of the list. In a more professional setting, I’d like to play Sarah in Ragtime. Love that show. Love the music. I’ve always wanted to have a go at being Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha.
10# What is it about theatre that challenges today’s world of devices and binge TV?
Moya: You get up on stage in front of people and you can’t fast forward it or delete it. It is what it is. It’s raw, it’s in the moment. These days we’re overstimulated. Theatre’s a way for people to put things away and focus in on human behaviour, great music and a story. I think that is really important.
Marisha: Theatre is real. There are so many screens in our lives that put up a barrier between you and another person. When people come to the theatre they feel something and when they come and see Dreamgirls they’re having all these emotions that you can’t get when you watch Netflix.
Karen: Musical theatre is really important to me. I’ve learned this through my friends, who had never been to the theatre before they came to see me in Dreamgirls. Their faces brightened up by the end of the show and they wanted to go straight back in to watch it again. The music is so powerful that you can only experience it live.
Dreamgirls is currently showing at the Savoy Theatre. Find out more and book your tickets here.
Read TBB’s 100% #OutOf100 review of Dreamgirls here.