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Dreamgirls’ Amber Riley: ‘I’m giving young black girls permission to be in musicals’

Amber Riley in Dreamgirls. Photo: Brinkhoff and Mogenburg
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Dreamgirls star Amber Riley has spoken of the importance of her leading role in the West End in inspiring young black girls to become performers.

Riley, whose credits include Glee and Let It Shine, said her casting showed black girls that musical theatre was an option, “not just radio and pop”.

Her comments were made at the 2017 WhatsOnStage Awards, where Riley won best actress in a musical for her role as Effie in Dreamgirls.

“When I see people at the stage door and I see young black girls that look like me and see themselves in me, I’m giving them this idea that if they want to do musical theatre then it’s an option,” she said.

“It’s not just radio or pop or what have you, but musical theatre is also an awesome medium to get into.”

Speaking at the ceremony, Riley also spoke of the importance of diverse casting in theatre.

She said: “I think art should imitate life in general, and the world is diverse, so it’s always a benefit to the show to have a diverse cast.

“It’s a benefit to show different people, different ethnicities and different stories, so people can come and see your show and they can see themselves in it.”

Riley added: “It does feel amazing to be a woman of colour and to be a lead in a show that’s getting so much recognition.”

Fellow winner Noma Dumezweni, who picked up the prize for best supporting actress in a play for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, also addressed diversity.

Speaking of those who criticised her being cast as Hermione in the play, she said: “After all the hullabaloo of getting the job, the bottom line is, you come and see the show and think, ‘She’s alright at acting, she can do the job’. Because ultimately that’s what I do, it’s my job.

“I am a theatre creature. I am an actor. I make plays, and one of the scariest things for me is that people are always stuck in their heads with all this academic stuff, but it was about the job.”

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child scooped a record eight awards at the ceremony, held at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London on February 19.

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