Dreamgirls is an award-winning Broadway musical, which opened on December 20, 1981 at the Imperial Theatre on Broadway and ran for 1522 performances. The musical follows the story of a black all-girl singing trio from Detroit called "The Dreams", who become music superstars. It features music by Henry Krieger and lyrics and book by Tom Eyen, and was directed by Michael Bennett, produced by Bennett, Bob Avian, and Geffen Records, and choreographed by Bennett and Michael Peters. The original Broadway production, which won six Tony Awards, starred Jennifer Holliday, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Loretta Devine, Ben Harney, Cleavant Derricks, and Obba Babatunde.
The play is currently being adapted into a motion picture by DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures, and is set to be released on December 25, 2006. The feature-film version of Dreamgirls will star Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover, and Jennifer Hudson.
The story begins in 1962, when The Dreamettes, a hopeful black girl group from Detroit, enter a talent competition. The three girls -- full-figured lead singer Effie White and her groupmates Deena Jones and Lorrell Robinson -- meet Curtis Taylor, Jr., a shady businessman who becomes their manager. Curtis convinces James "Thunder" Early, a popular R&B star, to take on the Dreamettes as his opening act. Curtis renames them The Dreams and begins, with the help of Effie's songwriter brother C.C., to push them into the mainstream, falling in love with Effie in the process.
By the mid-1960s, Curtis decides to make the thinner Deena the lead singer of the Dreams, in order to give their act more pop appeal. Effie is resentful for being pushed out of the spotlight, but her anger is doubled when Curtis' affections also shift to Deena. By the late-1960s, Effie has sunken into a depression, and Curtis replaces her with Michelle Morris, although Effie is pregnant with Curtis' child.
With Morris, the Dreams -- now renamed "Deena Jones & the Dreams" -- go on to record several successful pop hits, while Effie struggles to establish a solo career on her own. By the early 1970s, Deena wants to quit the act and become an actress, and Lorrell is involved in a difficult relationship with James Early. Effie, however, finally finds the success and fame she wants, undeterred by Curtis' underhanded attempts to suppress the release of her hit single "One Night Only" by having the Dreams record and release it. Deena and Lorrell eventually learn of Curtis' true nature, and decide to disband the Dreams. The group makes their farewell appearance, during which they reunite with Effie, in 1972, resulting in a happy ending for all.
Original Broadway production
The original Broadway production of Dreamgirls starred Jennifer Holliday as Effie White, Sheryl Lee Ralph as Deena Jones, Loretta Devine as Lorrell Robinson, Ben Harney as Curtis Taylor, Jr., Cleavant Derricks as James "Thunder" Early, and Obba Babatunde as C. C. White. Dreamgirls proved to be a star-making vehicle for several of its performers, particularly Holliday, whose performance as Effie received significant praise.
Dreamgirls was nominated for thirteen Tony Awards, including the Tony Award for Best Musical, and eventually won six: Best Book of a Musical, *Best Actor in a Musical (Ben Harney), Best Actress in a Musical (Jennifer Holliday), Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Cleavant Derricks), Best Lighting Design (Tharon Musser), and Best Choreography (Michael Bennett & Michael Peters). Holliday's recording of Effie's solo "And I'm Telling You (I'm Not Going)", was a Top 30 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1982. The cast recording proved to be controversial when producers decided to present the complex musical sequences as simple individual songs, ultimately cutting approximately half of the score.
After its success on Broadway, Dreamgirls has been frequently produced and presented. A 2001 concert performance starring Lillias White, Audra McDonald, Heather Headley, Billy Porter and Norm Lewis was recorded and released in its entirety on CD. During the early 2000s, American Idol contestant Frenchie Davis gained praise for her role as Effie in several productions of Dreamgirls.
The Dreams and The Supremes
The basic plot of Dreamgirls is derived from the history of The Supremes, a girl-group from Detroit which was Motown's most successful group act during the 1960s. Effie is a doppelganger for Florence Ballard, original lead singer of the Supremes. Diana Ross, who became the central focus of the Supremes by 1965, is here adapted into the character of Deena Jones. Supremes member Mary Wilson is represented by Lorrell in Dreamgirls; like Lorrell, Wilson was involved in a relationship with a male R&B star ("Abdul "Duke" Fakir of The Four Tops). Curtis Taylor, Jr. represents Berry Gordy, Jr., the founder of Motown, who pushed the Supremes towards pop success and became romantically involved with Ross (though not Ballard). James "Thunder" Early is depicted as a James Brown - like singer, and C. C. White is a collective representative for The Supremes' primary songwriters, Holland-Dozier-Holland. Michelle Morris is representative of Cindy Birdsong, Florence Ballard's replacement in The Supremes, which was renamed "Diana Ross & the Supremes" at that time.
Dreamgirls is most dissimilar from The Supremes' story in its second act, during which Effie works towards and finds success as a solo performer. In real life, Florence Ballard's solo career was not successful, and the singer sunk into poverty, dying at the age of thirty-two in 1976.
Mary Wilson loved Dreamgirls, and even named her first autobiography, Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme, after it. Diana Ross, however, was reportedly angered by the musical. Many reports say Diana Ross viewed the play but left the theatre after the first act, never returning to see the rest of the show. Though the Deena character highly mirrors Diana Ross, Sheryl Lee Ralph stands to the fact that she was not trying to imitate Ross, but portrayed Deena in a similar yet distinct style.
2006 feature film
A motion picture adaptation of Dreamgirls, written and directed by Bill Condon, started filming in early 2006, starring Jennifer Hudson of American Idol fame as Effie White, Beyoncé Knowles as Deena Jones, and Anika Noni Rose as Lorrell. Fantasia Barrino had originally been the top contender considered for the role of Effie .
Also appearing in Dreamgirls are Jamie Foxx as Curtis Taylor, Jr, Eddie Murphy as James "Thunder" Early, Danny Glover as Early's manager, and Sharon Leal as Michelle Morris. Usher was talks to play C.C. White, but the producers could not negotiate an acceptable deal with him, and cast Keith Robinson in that role.
To give the story more exposure for the upcoming film release, DreamWorks Pictures and the copyright owners of the original play, Tams-Witmark, have announced that they will pay the licensing fees for all non-professional stage performances of Dreamgirls for the calendar year of 2006. DreamWorks hopes to encourage amateur productions of Dreamgirls, and familiarize a wider audience with the play. The Dreamgirls feature film will be released in December 2006.
Awards and nominations
Drama Desk Awards