Chasing the dream

December 21, 2016

I am always interested in individual stories of success – and how few personal journeys are made with complete, or sometimes any, ease. Even the most seemingly glamorous life histories are always tinged with sadness, regret or loss if one looks a little more closely.

In the new London stage production of Dreamgirls we follow the life story of singer Effie White, played by Amber Riley, the US actor who portrayed Mercedes Jones in television series Glee.

When Effie, her brother CC, and her friends Deena Jones and Lorrell Robinson form a band The Dreamettes, they are quickly picked up by young car salesman Curtis Taylor Jr who offers to become their manager, and arranges for the girls to become backup singers for popular R&B singer Jimmy ‘Thunder’ Early.

Early and his manager Marty are convinced by Curtis to aim for the pop market. But as they become more successful, creative tensions begin to develop, just as love affairs begin to spark. Effie begins dating Curtis, and loses her place as the lead singer. She becomes jealous and frustrated, behaves like a diva, and leaves the band.

As time goes on, the newly-named Dreams appear to be successful but internal tensions tear them apart in dramatic fashion just as Effie recovers her own confidence and achieves her own dreams.

Of course, hopes and fantasies give us direction. Think of Beyoncé Knowles herself, who starred in the movie version of Dreamgirls (alongside Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson). Beyoncé said: “I can never be safe; I always try and go against the grain. As soon as I accomplish one thing, I just set a higher goal. That’s how I’ve gotten to where I am.”

Yet dreams can sometimes be too vivid or consuming. If we think we can only be happy at the moment our dreams come true, we may miss the other pleasures, small triumphs, snatches of real happiness that are happening on the way.

In Dreamgirls, the young musicians become so determined to reach the top, they lose sight of the friendships and shared experiences which they enjoyed at the start.

The characters’ thwarted dreams and rediscovered courage are themes we can apply to our own lives. As Danish existentialist Soren Kierkegaard says: “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.”

Perhaps we can obtain satisfaction in life only when we accept this? That far from treating each realised dream as a series of conundrums to be resolved, or hurdles to be leapt over, we learn to simply enjoy the progression itself.

Bruno Wang, founder of Bruno Wang Productions