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Steppin’ to the bad side with Joe Aaron Reid — the leading man of Dreamgirls

The brand new West End production of Dreamgirls marks London theatre history as the first time we’ve ever been fortunate enough to have it open on British soil.

Now playing at the Savoy Theatre, we first brought you our exclusive interview with London’s Effie White, Ms Amber Riley. Now, it’s the turn of its leading man.

Getting ready to step into the bad side, this is GT and Dreamgirls’ leading man, Joe Aaron Reid.

Many congratulations on joining the first ever West End cast of Dreamgirls. How’s the journey been so far? Thank you! I’m so excited to be a part of this show. It’s such a hard thing putting together a big and splashy musical, but we’ve managed to do so and I, and hopefully along with you and everyone else, are just so proud and happy with what we have going on.

What experience of the show did you have before joining? Honestly, the only relationship I had with the show was that I had seen the 2006 movie, which I also auditioned for. Back then I was more of a CC age-wise, and clearly that worked out. [Laughs] I wore out the soundtrack and so I was familiar with many of the songs that made it into that movie. Otherwise, I’ve always just hoped to take part in a production somewhere and some point…and here we are! 

Why does this show work? What made it appealing to you to audition? I think the 60s period is such an interesting time for music and American culture as a whole. I can’t imagine a time where black people only really played for black audiences and vice versa. To think of what people had to overcome to get to today, and the minds that had to be opened and the embraces that needed to take place, I think it’s one of the darkest and brightest moments in American History, that is told really well through this incredible piece with incredible music!

Dreamgirls London rehearsals

Let’s talk about Curtis. What makes him important to this story? Curtis is the puppet master — he embodies exactly what I was just speaking of. His ambition and his forward-thinking are what enables other performers to cross those racial barriers and other societal barriers without fear, but in doing so you start to see the underbelly of both the music industry and general corruption of many systems. He works so hard to achieve great success for himself and others, but sometimes people’s greatest strength can also be their weakness.

You get to play opposite Glee star Amber Riley as Effie White. Talk us through what that’s like… Amber is a dream — don’t pardon the pun, it was cheap and easy! She’s one of the most naturally gifted and joyous people I know. She’s humble, she’s hardworking, persistent, positive and uplifting of others.

What’s she like working with on stage? As an actress, she’s so giving onstage and it’s always nice when someone can look you in the eye and be right there with you. Then she opens her mouth to sing, and it’s like, “You’re joking, right?!” I feel very connected with her, and I look forward to what this year will bring.

You tweeted about rehearsing And I Am Telling You (I’m Not Going) with Amber. Talk us through what that was like…. Well, I mean…we all know her voice… Imagine that six-inches from your face! 

Initially, I was concerned that it would be hard to stay in character in that moment because of the goosebumps I’d be getting from her vocals, but the more we’ve rehearsed and I see how ‘in the moment’ she is, it’s heartbreaking and infuriating all at the same time. It’s really that moment that sends my character into Act 2. The audience isn’t ready!

What makes 2016/17 the ideal time for this show to arrive in London? Why now? I don’t know that I would call this year ‘ideal’, or any year for that matter, but I think that it is a lovely time for diversity on the stage.

I think our stories and our history need to be shared not just because they are good stories, but because they are important. In many cases, universal themes are present that remind us to celebrate our differences, but revel in our similarities. I think it’s a story that should have been told here a long time ago, but selfishly, I’m glad it has waited until now, because I live here now! [Laughs] 

Would you say this story is still as relevant today as it was back when first created then? Absolutely! If you look at the current political situation in the US, with the election, and social movements like #blacklivesmatter, it goes to show that it’s very relevant. Combine that with nationally televised talent contests such as The X-Factor and The Voice, and people willing to do whatever it takes to becomes famous. Yeah, I think this show speaks, on many levels, to all of those things.

© Brinkhoff

© Brinkhoff

You come to Dreamgirls direct from playing Benny in In The Heights. What was it like being in a Lin-Manuel Miranda musical? Honestly, being in one of Lin’s shows is fantastic, for a number of reasons. In The Heights is such a well crafted musical. He manages to find the perfect balance between traditional and contemporary, without it feeling overwrought or contrived. He speaks the language of love, using such intelligent vocabulary, that anyone can understand what the story is about. As an actor, it is so nice to feel intellectually challenged, while still being able to give and receive goosebumps. Benny was a longtime dream role, and I feel honored to have been able to step into his shoes. I will always cherish him and that show.

And in that space at King’s Cross… Working in the King’s Cross Theatre was really an incredible and interesting experience. The audience were on two sides, and I was very used to playing traditional proscenium stages, so it was hard at first, but the more I did it the more I grew to love it so. Now I keep getting notes to “cheat out” because I’m upstaging myself. I’m now so used to audiences being on both sides that I forget. It was a venue like no other, and it felt more like a theatrical event rather than just going to see a musical, which is why I think audiences keep coming back for more and more.

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© Dreamgirls London

Before that, you played Stephen in If/Then on Broadway with Idina Menzel. What are your memories of that show? If/Then was probably my favorite theatrical experience from Broadway because it challenged me as an actor and forced me to grow up.

I originated the show as Scott, who meets Idina’s character, Beth, on a plane, and (spoiler alert) we crash, and then eventually closed the show as Stephen. Getting to switch roles and be an even more integral character to the story was great because I got to stretch myself while still doing a show that I knew and loved. The show was a completely original piece, constructed by some of the most talented people in the business, and it got me through what was a very intense time in my life. I got married, had children and moved to a new country with If/Then, and for a show that beckons the question ‘what if?’, when faced with these major life decisions. I definitely weighed my options!

How was it working with a theatre icon like Idina? I was really nervous to work with her at first because she was Maureen and Elphaba, and so it took awhile to warm up. Idina was great to work with and was always super supportive of me and the rest of the cast. Watching her rehearse and perform helped me grow in so many ways, but it also taught me that as serious as we take acting and theatre, we are putting on a play. We aren’t curing anything but the blues, so don’t take life too seriously.

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© Image courtesy of Joe Aaron Reid

Do you have a favourite show that you’ve been part? I’ve done Ragtime twice in my career, and I’ve yet to be able to play Coalhouse Walker, Jr. I’ve only understudied him, and as I now have gotten little older, I look forward to revisiting that show one day, in the role.

Do you have any favourite shows that you’ve not had the chance to be part of yet? I’d love a crack at Hamilton, of course, and there’s a few roles in it that I’d be interested in auditioning for if given the opportunity. I’d also really love to play Darren Lemming in Richard Greenberg’s Take Me Out. I loved the show on Broadway and have been dying to audition for it ever since.

And finally, what do audiences when they come for a night at Dreamgirls? I think audiences will come for a great night of incredibly soulful music and singing, which we will certainly bestow upon them.

I mean, seriously, some of these voices are INSANE, but I think what they won’t be expecting is how interesting the story is. It is funny and dark and poignant and heartbreaking. It’s practically everything you could want in a show. Plus, the dancing is out of this world and the costumes and set are decked out in Swarovski crystals. I mean, full-on West End glamour. It’s all very exciting, and we’re beyond excited to share it with the world!

 Read our full interview with Amber Riley in GT. Via gtdigi.co.uk.

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Please note: Amber Riley will play the role of Effie for 7 out of 8 performances per week. Currently the alternate will perform on Wednesday evenings.


More information, including booking your tickets for Dreamgirls, can be found via dreamgirlswestend.com.

GT box office strip

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