By Peter Filichia
London hasn’t made the mistake that Broadway did.
For when the original Broadway cast album of Dreamgirls was recorded in 1982, ten of the twenty-eight Henry Krieger–Tom Eyen songs were missing from the LP and single CD.
To be sure, when we discuss truncated musical theater recordings, we mourn Follies as the biggest miscarriage of original cast album justice. But Dreamgirls is right up there. Now comes a new two-disc, twenty-eight song London cast Dreamgirls – which stems from what is, surprisingly enough, the first-ever West End production of the 1981 smash hit.
The original Broadway cast album clocked in at 47:05 – already a skimpy number in the then-new era of CDs, which were able to hold more than an hour’s worth of material. Here we get 52:05 on the first disc alone and 45:22 on the second – meaning more than twice as much.
To have this extended version isn’t a surprise when one sees who produced the album: Henry Krieger himself. He also arranged the show to be recorded live, which usually means a less-impressive sound. Not this time; the sound is excellent, and you’ll be as thrilled as the audience that savored this performance.
Now we need no longer look for “I’m Looking for Something, Baby,” the show’s true opening number in which The Stepp Sisters show what they can do at the Apollo Theatre Talent Contest. They’re followed by two other hopefuls: Little Albert and the Tru-Tones, who do “Goin’ Downtown” and Tiny Joe Dixon who suggests that we “Take the Long Way Home.” Only after those three do we get the song that begins the original Broadway cast album: “Move,” which has us meet The Dreamettes: lead singer Effie Melody White and her back-ups Deena Jones and Lorrell Robinson.
This recording offers more character and plot development through “Party, Party,” which displays two seduction attempts: Effie, played by 2017 Olivier Award winner Amber Riley, comes on to Curtis Taylor, Jr., the group’s manager. That’s followed by the established and already legendary James Thunder Early who, although very much married, nevertheless propositions Lorrell. That gives extra meaning to Early’s next song: “I Want You, Baby.”
There’s more subtext in another London lagniappe: “Heavy,” for Effie’s being overweight will be one of the issues brought up when she’s fired from The Dreams (as the group becomes known).
As Act One is moving to its forceful conclusion (and isn’t that an understatement?), the fight escalates musically with “It’s All Over.” This is arguably the most important addition that is missing from the Broadway album.
Here we see the show’s biggest conflict as Effie discovers that she’s being replaced. At first, she tries to defend herself. When that doesn’t work, she lashes out at all her colleagues and her brother. Krieger knew how to escalate the argument with a well-placed modulation.
The nearly four-minute sequence vibrantly sets the table very effectively for what is often called The Greatest Song to Ever End a First Act: “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.”
That aria is, of course, on the original Broadway cast album. Imagine Dreamgirls without it! Amber Riley’s version is on par with original caster, Jennifer Holliday’s. What you get here that you didn’t on the original is twelve seconds of the New Dreams’ “Love, Love You Baby,” which is almost drowned out by the audience’s whooping its approval and amazement at what Riley has just accomplished.
Disc Two, unlike the Broadway recording, immediately informs us that five years have passed. Because the first song is “Love, Love You Baby,” we realize their initial foray turned out to be a big hit. Originally, we had to wait until the final two tracks to assess The Dreams’ new sound; now we get an immediate chance to judge it.
Effie assures everyone “I Am Changing,” which gets the audience to cheer mid-performance. No question that Riley deserves the ovation even before she finishes the song, but for the record, her making a sudden and unexpected costume change is also part of the reason.
If you’ve seen Dreamgirls, you’ll have no trouble imagining it, because it’s utterly unforgettable. If you haven’t, well, that West End production will be there for the foreseeable future (and it may come to Broadway as well).
“I’m Somebody” starts out with The Dreams singing a song by that name, but that’s not the main event: C.C. vigorously confronts Curtis about his machinations, and we see how the mighty will fall.
On stage, Dreamgirls has always ended with “Hard to Say Goodbye,” at The Dreams final performance – but now we hear Deena’s curtain speech that includes “There aren’t just three Dreams; there are four.” She then brings out Effie. It’s a lovely gesture, but it means much more now because Krieger precedes it with a new song: “Listen.”
Not so new, you’re saying, for it was in the film. No, that one was Deena’s declaration of independence from Curtis; this one is a duet between Effie and Deena, who bury a dozen or so hatchets. The new lyrics by Willie Reale, serve to underline that Deena’s upcoming speech is sincere and not merely gracious.
To be fair, there’s another recording of Dreamgirls thanks to a 2001 concert. It was a highly emotional event, partly because it took place a mere thirteen days after 9/11. Its two-disc set is a half-hour longer by virtue of its including almost all of Eyen’s dialogue. (There’s no “Listen,” though.)
Still, if you don’t have that much time to spend but still hanker for the true essence of Dreamgirls, this original London cast album is the one for you.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com and each Friday at www.mtishows.com. His book The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at www.amazon.com.