There are not many performances that make your heart swell with emotion, render you speechless yet bursting at the seams to share the experience, or that stand the test of time. The original Dreamgirls did just that! Opening December 20th 1981, the sensational Broadway musical has lived far beyond the stages of the Great White Way to impact nearly three generations of theater lovers and people in general. Ask anyone who saw the original show and they will tell you exactly where, when, and the circumstances surrounding the event. And now, 25 years later, Dreamgirls is back to wow us again. This time in a film loaded with Hollywood glitz and glamour and award-winning performances.
Haters may not totally appreciate this new cast of "who's hot right now", but film producers played it smart. Presently, Beyonce Knowles is arguably the hottest female in pop music. She's got the look, the acting skills, and the vocal talent to pull off the role of Deanna Jones, originally played by Sheryl Lee Ralph. Producers are relying heavily on her marketability. To satisfy the distinguishing palate of elitist thespians, 2004 Tony Award Winner for Best Performance in a Musical, Anika Noni Rose, replaces the musical’s Loretta Devine as Lorrell. And straight from choir rehearsal in a small church in Chicago and several memorable American Idol appearances, Jennifer Hudson rounds out the trio as Effie--the role made famous by Jennifer Holliday, the only actress to win a Tony Award for her performance in the musical.
To further guarantee commercial and creative success, the supporting cast reads like a “Who's Who” list of Hollywood actors. Still utilizing the talents that earned him several awards and critical acclaim in last year's "Ray", Jamie Foxx portrays Curtis Taylor, the Berry Gordy/Matthew Knowles Detroit car salesman turned girl group manager. And no, it's not a coincidence. Even Stevie Wonder sees the similarity between the Dreamgirls, Supremes and consequently Destiny's Child. Ironic, isn't it, how art imitates life? Likewise, Eddie Murphy, hones his "Party All the Time" vocals to play James Early, the King of R&B of his time, but only in his mind. He's an old school crooner with James Brown appeal that can't cope with the fading applause in his career. Danny Glover, plays Marty Madison, Early's talent manager who can cultivate talent, but not mainstream marketability.
Staying true to the original story, the film adaptation takes us into the lives of a young girl group called the Dreamettes. The sassy lead singer and go-getter is Effie. The demure Deena and eager-to-please Lorrel are the backup singers. Effie's brother, C.C. is their songwriter and producer. During a talent show they meet Curtis who is there to talk business with Early. Curtis' vision is to create a new sound in R&B music and a new music label that will move them out of the "Chittlin' Circuit" and into the mainstream--in other words, into the homes of White listeners. When he sees the Dreamettes he knows he's found just the right bait to hook Early into considering his plans. To get the ball rolling, he dances with the devil bribing white stations to play his music. When his efforts begin to payoff, he makes a major change in the group. Curtis thinks Effie's voice is too strong and soulful for mainstream America. Not to mention, she's a little overweight. Not necessarily fat, but too big for Curtis' new image for the girls. For the sake of the group, Effie is pushed into the background and consequently out of the group altogether. The thinner, Deanna, becomes the new lead singer of The Dreamettes, now renamed The Dreams. While Curtis and the girls lose themselves soaring into music success, Effie's life takes a totally different turn. With no music career in sight, she experiences “what happens to a dream deferred?”.
Solid acting and great musical performances give us an emotional depiction of the cost of fame and fortune. For certain, the most anticipated number being "And I Am Telling You, I'm Not Going." It’s untouchable and almost sacred to those having seen Holliday’s original. But to her credit, Hudson brings her own power and passion to the song to deliver a gut wrenching performance that may be as memorable as the first--at least for this generation. So, despite what the trailers and marketing campaigns may lead you to believe, this film is not "Beyonce's new movie"! The story is about three different women and the sacrifices they make for the group's success as a whole. It is not the story of one evil woman scheming and back-stabbing her way to the top. That film does exist in Hollywood, but Dreamgirls is definitely not it. At the end of the day, this is a feel good movie, one that will be just as inspirational as it's predecessor. No doubt, history will repeat itself.
Dreamgirls, the movie, is written and directed by Oscar winner Bill Condon, screenwriter of “Chicago”. The musical was written by Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger and produced, directed, and choreographed by Michael Bennett. Bennet also created the Broadway hit "A Chorus Line". Bob Avian, David Geffen and the Schubert Organization joined Bennet as the Dreamgirls producers. Originally co-choreographed by Michael Peters, the same dance genius behind Michael Jackson's "Beat It" and "Thriller" music videos, the film's moves are created by Fatima Robinson. Fatima's work is in heavy rotation on MTV and BET. Many know her as the choreographer of Jackson's "Remember the Time" music video, and Aaliyah's "Try Again" and "Rock the Boat" videos. She's also credited for films, "Lackawanna Blues" and "Save the Last Dance". Oscar nominated for her work on "Ray", Sharen Davis is the costume designer for the film. Currently her work can also be seen in Will Smith’s “Pursuit of Happyness”. To get more information about the cast and crew and other fun stuff, checkout the film's website at www.dreamgirlsmovie.com.