As one of the world’s most iconic musicals, landing a role in Dreamgirls is a stage actor’s dream gig. The high-octane dance moves, emotional storyline and powerful musical numbers have blown away theatre audiences since the show first premiered back in the early 1980’s. Dreamgirls gained further worldwide acclaim thanks to the 2006 Hollywood blockbuster release of the same name starring vocal powerhouses Beyonce and Jennifer Hudson. Today, there are few who don’t know the story of the Dreamgirls journey and fewer who aren’t familiar with the iconic ‘And I Am Telling You’ musical number midway through the show. Returning to London’s Savoy Theatre late 2016, audience’s expectations from the whole cast have been high, to say the least.
With a gruelling eight shows a week schedule, FAULT wanted to find out just what it takes for cast member Joe Aaron Reid to prepare for the big stage. Playing the business minded and (sometimes) antagonist Curtis Taylor Junior (played by Jamie Foxx in the 2006 movie) – we find out just what it’s like to be part of such an iconic production.
FAULT: Did you know much about the character of Curtis before you took the role?
Joe: I knew what Jamie Foxx had done, I didn’t know much more than that though. I auditioned for the movie many years ago but for the role of Cici as I was much younger at the time. I didn’t have much connection with Curtis until auditions came around this time and I realised it was far more fitting for me.
The Jamie Foxx version is very famous – does that make it harder for you to make the character your own?
I think anytime there’s a movie of something that you can replay and watch over and over, often times it doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad, that’s just what people know and as an actor, it’s hard to force yourself into someone elses perceptions. The great thing about this production, often times people who love the movie have come up to me and said they love the production so much because they can appreciate both independently and that is very reassuring.
Is there a big difference between your version of Curtis and the ones we say in the movie?
I’m a bit younger than Jamie Foxx is in the movie which helps because we start so early in the story to when it finishes. Especially with act 1 – we can explore their younger years which isn’t really touched on in the movie so you have a longer story arch for all the characters. We all start as naïve and ambition young people and so we can show a broader character development.
Are you playing Curtis as less the Hollywood villain because of this?
It’s a mixed bag – I just try to be true. Some days it can be an ambitious portrayal and other it’s pure villainy. It’s an interesting role and I’m learning from the audience that no matter how I play Curtis, they’re looking for a bad guy. Everyone is always onEffie’s side and what’s funny to see is that people forget that Effie is not always easy to work with.
Curtis isn’t innocent but despite always making decisions for the benefit of the whole group, Curtis is always hated! I try to veer my performances towards the ambitious and to make it clear that it’s about survival in the industry and less about the personal feeling. There’s a line in the show which reads ‘It’s business baby’ and with Curtis, it really is about the business over everything.
What about Curtis attracted you to the role?
Curtis was a role that I’ve always had my eye on. He’s a meaty character and the growth he goes through in two hours in realy engaging. To start the show as wide eyes and end the show as broken as he becomes and everything in-between, is an actor’s dream. To be part of a musical with the big performers and performances but to play the person who acts as the glue for all the build up is something that as an actor, I’m lucky to get that.
So opening night comes and the whole cast is ill…
[Laughs] I know right! There have been a lot of people who were ill throughout the whole process. It’s such an iconic show so stress just destroys your immune system. I was fine up until the week before previews and I have two kids who are in nursery and they bring home everything! I ended up having a viral and bacterial infection which wiped me out and two other cast members were also very sick.
I then had to miss the following three shows and I came back and then as luck would have it and I got the neural virus and press was in so I couldn’t pull out. The team were literally following me around with buckets and I was in tears but we all pushed through opening night and then it all fell apart. It hasn’t been easy but we pushed through and it looks as though everyone is on the mend now.
What are you looking for when you pick roles to audition for?
Everyone wants the meaty roles; the big songs, the showy moments, the challenge and the recognitions that come with it. Sometimes you’re blessed with that and sometimes you’re not. In the show before this, I got to play Benny from ‘In The Heights’ and that was a dream role for me. His character is such a huge departure from Curtis because he is a young lover who just wants to have success and love the girl he loves and when he can’t do that, he just lets it go. With Curtis, he’s also misunderstood but he still ploughs through anything in his way. The difference in character there is a great thing for me to play. When people say they’ve seen me in both they always say “it’s great to hear you play such different characters.”
Is the stage where your heart is and where you want to stay or do you think you’ll go into film and television?
I think my heart will always lie here. When I was a kid, movies and musicals were so my “thing” and it’s certainly in my heart but in NYC I was able to work on a tv show and I’d love to sink my teeth more in there. Not that I want it to take me away from the theatre, I just want to be able to pick and choose where my time is spent especially now I’m older and I have a family.
Finally, what is your FAULT
My FAULT is that I’m a perfectionist. I like things to be perfect all of the time, which I’m fully aware is impossible. As I get a bit older, I’m learning not to be such a control freak but you know what they say.. ”old habits die hard”
Words & Photography: Miles Holder