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Monday, January 15, 2007


Dreamgirls is a dream come true for lovers of musicals everywhere. I mean, geez, we’ve only been waiting since its debut in 1981 on the Great White Way for it to make the glorious transition to the Silver Screen. 25 years, People! That’s five years less than it’s taken for Hollywood to decide it was time to remake The Hitcher since that one’s original version was released in 1986. They could have made Dreamgirls twice by now, but instead they have made the faithful wait. And wait. And wait to see the Broadway hit be adapted for the movies. Was it worth it? You betcha!

I’ll admit I was meant to be a Dreamgirl back in 1981. Sure, I wasn’t right for the part as I hardly resembled a young black woman from Detroit with a
voice like an angel on fire, but I could dream, couldn’t I? I had the record of the Broadway album and I would play it incessantly on my stereo while lip syncing to the songs sung by star Jennifer Holiday and fantasize that it was me on the stage each night performing the dazzling choreography and wearing the sparkling Bob Mackie gowns dripping with sequins and bugle beads in the spotlight shooting down on me from the back of the theater. Okay, so I was using my hairbrush as a microphone and the closest I came to a designer gown was the ratty old terrycloth bathrobe I was wearing, with the chic label from J.C. Penney but I had a dream.

Eventually, Dreamgirls became an anachronism of a bygone era and my dog-eared record cover represented much of my youthful foolishness. The album ended up finally going into the basement along with my platform shoes, bell bottoms, and mirrored disco ball where it collected dust until it disappeared altogether once space was needed for more important “junk” from a less distant memory. Any hope that Dreamgirls, the movie, would ever get made was forgotten along with those pink and lime green striped bells.

Then it happened. Suddenly, here comes
Dreamgirls, for a new generation, and I have to admit, I had to ask myself “Why?” It seemed like as much as I loved it, time had passed this story by. It was about the 1960s and 1970s for goodness sake! And anyone who lived through those fashions and disco has got to be reticent to examine that car wreck of a time again. I remember plastic miniskirts and white vinyl boots. No amount of therapy will erase the waves of polyester body shirts and skintight white pants every guy in the world wore on Saturday nights, trying to get the fever (and a little bit more than that) everywhere from the local disco to the produce department at the neighborhood grocery store. Those pants were so tight you could tell how much money a guy had in his pockets and what religion he was all in one glimpse. Did today’s audiences care about stuff like this?

Dreamworks certainly hoped so because the studio has assembled an amazing cast for this production, and the movie they’ve made rocks. Director Bill Condon (Kinsey) knows that no
matter how much time passes, people will always flock to stories heavy on sex, betrayal, greed, hate, and romance. Throw in some truly terrific music sung by some great artists and how can it fail?

Well, actually, it could flop miserably if not for the key casting of the main roles, especially that of Effie White. Effie is the central character in this story of three women who struggle together as a group (“The Dreams”) to become singing and recording stars. The tale follows their rise from their early days and first break as back-up singers for the legendary (albeit fictional) James “Thunder” Early (Eddie Murphy; Shrek the Third) and then follows their heady ride up the charts as they become major stars of stage and television before their personal jealousies and bickering tear them apart and their lives splinter in different directions. Beyonce Knowles (The Pink Panther), obviously the best known of the trio, is highlighted as the “star” of Dreamgirls but her character, Deena Jones, is more what one would identify as the “villain” of the piece if the movie has to have one. Her beauty, figure and talent are so outstanding that she
can’t help but be the one you want to hate even though she hasn’t done anything wrong except to accept the privileges and compliments of those who (men, naturally) would give her breaks along the way mostly because of her appearance. Anika Noni Rose (Surviving Christmas) as Lorrell and Jennifer Hudson as Effie are the other two who complete the trio but the film focuses primarily on Effie’s world as she is the lead singer of The Dreams at the beginning of the movie and the one who is slighted by the early on decision made by her own brother (and the group’s songwriter) C.C. (Keith Robinson; tv’s “Over There”) and the group’s manager Curtis Taylor (Jamie Foxx; Miami Vice) to replace Effie with Deena even though they all agree, including Deena, that Effie has the better voice.

From here the fractured tale of fame swerves into the land of disco, drugs, welfare, uber-wealth, infidelity, and just about everywhere else you can imagine a musical can tread in 2 ½ hours. You’ll be afraid to take a bathroom break for fear of missing a divorce, death, or reconciliation in the time it takes to flush. Not to mention the great music that never takes a break.

Surprisingly, that’s one thing that hasn’t been hurt at all by the decades’ long rest ~ the music. You might expect that “trendy” music from 1981 would sound flat and dated to today’s audience, but the original score by Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen is as captivating and as fresh as ever.

The major find and musical heart of
Dreamgirls is newcomer Jennifer Hudson, making her big screen debut as Effie. Without her, the music would most certainly not have the same passion or meaning. Her fragility, expressiveness, perfect timing, and, of course, that awe-inspiring voice almost makes you believe that the gods prevented Dreamgirls from being made into a feature until its star was old enough to fulfill her destiny. Hudson may have been a mere three months old when the play premiered, but she has captured its essence and made it her own today. Prior to Dreamgirls, Hudson’s greatest claim to fame was as a losing contestant on tv’s “American Idol”, where she received more than her fair share of ridicule and scorn from judge Simon Cowell, who constantly made snide comments about her weight and her looks. It would seem that with her recent Golden Globe win as Best Supporting Actress and rumors everywhere predicting an Academy Award (nomination) on the way, Jennifer may have the last laugh yet. Now if only I could get my chance in the sequel. I’m ready, I tell you. I’ve even got a new robe.

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