Dreamgirls (2006)


Dreamgirls' simple characters and plot hardly detract from the movie’s real feats: the electrifying performances and the dazzling musical numbers.


In 1960s Detroit, a good night onstage can get you noticed but it won't get your song played on the radio. Here, a new kind of music is on the cusp of being born – a sound with roots buried deep in the soul of Detroit itself, where songs are about more than what's on the surface, and everyone is bound together by a shared dream.

Curtis Taylor, Jr. (Jamie Foxx) is a car salesman aching to make his mark in the music business – to form his own record label and get its sound heard on mainstream radio at a time when civil rights are still only a whisper in the streets. He just needs the angle, the right talent, the right product to sell.

Late for their stint in a local talent show, The Dreamettes – Deena Jones (Beyoncé Knowles), Lorrell Robinson (Anika Noni Rose), and lead singer Effie White (Jennifer Hudson) – show up in their cheap wigs and homemade dresses, rehearsing songs and steps by Effie's brother, C.C. (Keith Robinson), with hopes that talent and sheer desire will break them out of the only life that seems available to them.

They're young. They're beautiful. They're just what Curtis is looking for.

All they have to do is trust him.

James "Thunder" Early (Eddie Murphy) is a pioneer of the new Detroit sound, spellbinding audiences all along the "Chitlin' Circuit" with his electrifying blend of soul and rock 'n' roll. Curtis finesses The Dreamettes a gig singing backup for Early, and suddenly, for all of them, the gulf between what they want and what they can have draws closer for the first time.

Curtis launches the girls as a solo act, rechristening them The Dreams, knowing in his gut that success lies not with the soulful voice of Effie, but with the demure beauty and malleable style of Deena – despite their history…and Curtis' promises. Deena is ready to step into the spotlight, even as Effie fades away.

As a new musical age dawns, Curtis' driving ambition pushes this one-time family to the forefront of an industry in the throes of music revolution. But when the lights come up and the curtains part, they hardly recognize who they've become. Their dreams are finally there for the taking, but at a price that may be too heavy for their hearts to bear.

The groundbreaking Tony Award-winning Broadway phenomenon comes to life as an all-new motion picture adaptation written and directed by Academy Award®® winner Bill Condon. A Laurence Mark production presented by DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures, "Dreamgirls," is a compelling story of love and loyalty, fame and betrayal that tracks the struggle, sacrifices and triumphs of a group of outsiders carrying their landmark sound into mainstream America in the 1960s and '70s.

--© DreamWorks


Mistake #1
In the scene where Effie sings "Curtis, this time Effie's gonna win", Curtis turns his head a little to his left when Effie sings "win" at his face. But at the next shot, camera behind Curtis, Curtis' head is slightly turned to his right.

More Mistakes at MovieMistakes.com



"I'm not the dream that you had before.
I'm the dream that will give you more and more."

"Dreamgirls" was an anomaly when it came to life on the Broadway stage in the early 1980s directed by Michael Bennett. While visually the play was unlike anything ever attempted on Broadway, it was the intense human drama and moving, show-stopping songs that redefined musical theater for the era. "There is something primal about musicals," says writer-director Bill Condon, who was galvanized as he sat in the back row with some friends on opening night. "They can get under your skin in a way that straight dramas can't. In "Dreamgirls," the emotions bleeding through the songs made it a profoundly affecting experience."

Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger's earthy fable about real emotions – love, ambition, anguish, passion – deeply resonated with a vast cross-section of people. "We all know what it's like to desperately want something we can't have," Condon continues. "We all know what it's like to be left behind. Or to sacrifice everything for something you think you want, only to realize too late what you've lost. Here, in these characters, was all the hope and anguish laid bare. It's what has stayed with me all these years later, and what I wanted to bring back to life in this film."

"The themes of this story seem to be even more relevant today than they were twenty-five years ago," notes producer Laurence Mark. "What are the gains and losses that accompany fame? What are the consequences if you don't compromise? What are the consequences if you do? Is talent something to be packaged and sold? And finally, in the quest to hang on to your dreams, how can you also hang on to yourself?"

The setting is the Motor City, where African-American music is on the verge of breaking down the doors of the mainstream American music scene. "This story takes place in the '60s and '70s, which was a period of vast social and political change," says Condon. "The characters in 'Dreamgirls' reflect that upheaval."

Not only was music in transition, but so was the country. "This film takes place in a very unique time in history, the beginning of the urbanization of music," adds cast member Danny Glover. "The rise of the Civil Rights movement was bringing segregation to its end. The focus was shifting to the urban centers in the country."

The story finds one man trying to break in at that precise moment. Jamie Foxx, who won the Academy Award® for his portrayal of Ray Charles in "Ray," in addition to being nominated for Best Supporting Actor for "Collateral," plays Curtis Taylor, Jr., a hungry young businessman who sells Cadillacs as a springboard to a bright future he feels destined for. "Curtis is a rough-edged kind of guy who is trying to get into the music business," says Foxx. "He just wishes that he could have sung better, could have written better music, could have played some type of instrument, but he can't. So, he does what he can to get to the top by managing talent. I think that comes with a curse for him – on some level, he wishes it was him out there. He's working every angle until he finds an opening."

With "girl groups" sprouting up from gospel choirs across the country, talent night at the local club proves to be a goldmine. "Curtis is everywhere, putting things together," says Condon. He finds his vehicle when he sets his eyes on The Dreamettes. "They are three hungry, excited, anxious, naïve girls," says Beyoncé Knowles. The Platinum-selling musical artist stars as Deena Jones, a role she was told at the tender age of 16 that she was born to play. "It's so exciting for them to be there because they want this so bad. They want to be in the music industry. Their futures are entirely in front of them, and they think they've got what it takes to make it. When Curtis sees them, he sees all that potential."

Beautiful but circumspect, Deena's soft voice belies her ambition and competitive nature. "She's the hustler," Knowles describes. "She wants to get them onstage. They're ready for this. It's what they've been rehearsing so hard for. Their whole lives have led up to this moment."

The group's lead singer, Effie White, is played by newcomer Jennifer Hudson. Not as refined as Deena and Lorrell, Effie is a young singer who, despite her immense talent, does not fit the mold of an up-and-coming star in the '60s. "Effie shows up in her fake leopard skin coat with her head held high," says Hudson. "She knows she's got the voice to be a great singer. But she's also heart-breakingly naïve. She has this swagger – surrounded by her girls, her friends and back-up singers. She's really not prepared for what's about to happen to them. None of them really are."

The filmmakers conducted a six-month search, seeing more than 780 women to find the right combination of strength, passion and vulnerability to embody the character that made a young gospel singer named Jennifer Holliday a household name in the 1980s. "We held open auditions in Chicago, Detroit, New York, Atlanta, St. Louis, and here in L.A.," recalls casting director Debra Zane. "The role of Effie is so important; she's basically the heart of the movie. It was critical that we find exactly the right person to play this role."

Out of all the talented young women who were called, "American Idol" finalist Hudson stood out. "I stood on the 'American Idol' stage and then was the one to leave," she says. "I was okay with it because I knew it wasn't my dream. I knew my dream was coming – and here it is. In a way, I'm like Effie – on that kind of rollercoaster and coming out of it with a deeper understanding of myself and my art."

Third in the group, singing back-up, is Lorrell Robinson, played by Tony Award-winning Broadway actress Anika Noni Rose. Rose sees her role as "the peacemaker in the group. When things go awry, she's the one who wants to pull it together and make it work, because these are her friends."

Lorrell is barely able to contain her excitement at their luck when Curtis puts The Dreamettes together with singing sensation and local celebrity James "Thunder" Early. "She is like a lamb to the slaughter," says Rose. "Here is this incredible man who to her is just the world's greatest superstar. Lorrell can't believe their luck."

Eddie Murphy, whose prodigious talent fueled his own meteoric rise on television in "Saturday Night Live" and films like "48 Hrs." and "Trading Places," plays James "Thunder" Early, a character Condon describes as "a force of nature. Nothing can hold him back when he's performing and that electric energy bleeds into his personal life."

For Murphy, Early represents the unique R&B; spirit that was even then bleeding over into the consciousness of mainstream America. "Jimmy is perpetually on the edge of getting some national exposure, playing the cities," says Murphy. "Everyone loves him because he's really one of a kind. He just can't seem to break through, but he is an R&B; originator, bringing the sound that white kids could dance to – like James Brown, Chuck Berry, Little Richard. While the country was still segregated, they were bridging the world of music, bringing 'black' sound to 'white' America. It wasn't until later that these performers realized just how much they accomplished."

As they aggressively tour the "Chitlin' Circuit," Effie's brother C.C. (Keith Robinson) writes songs and choreographs moves for the parallel acts. C.C., though quiet, is the ideal conduit through which Curtis can craft the artists into a marketable commodity. "C.C. is a gifted artist in his own right but he doesn't have the confidence to express what's really in his heart," says Robinson. "Like everybody else in their little group, he puts his trust in Curtis. And through his songwriting, he becomes this instrument, a tool Curtis uses to take on the roadblocks he wants to break through."

"They're all coming up together and it's so exciting," says Rose. "There's this sense of camaraderie and shared desire. Everything is fun. Everything is an experiment. The stakes are high but it's all really in the abstract – they're still in their own little world. This is a time when no one has crossed over. So, they can afford to experiment."
The more they're together, the closer Effie and Curtis become. "Curtis is Effie's first love," says Condon. "Though gifted musically, she is still basically just a kid. Curtis is captivated by her sweet face and big voice. He's drawn to her talent."

When Curtis mixes with James "Thunder" Early, promising to break him out of the Chitlin' Circuit and into more uptown bookings, his longtime manager begins to see that the game has changed. Independent Spirit Award winner and acting legend Danny Glover plays Marty. Foxx enthuses, "Working alongside Danny, who is one of my heroes, is just incredible."
"Marty is an old school talent manager," describes Glover. "He discovered James when he was a kid, so he's like a father figure to him. But he's also that generation of talent agents who are on their way out. Marty has a real integrity, but he is not able to move up to another level. Curtis can see the transformation coming and asserts himself within that transformation. He takes the nurturing business relationship that James had with Marty, and turns it into a purely business relationship."

Unable to break through the payola-dominated landscape of mainstream radio, Curtis makes a play for breaking in on his own terms, rather than handing everything over to white artists and promoters. "Curtis is a guy with a vision that African-American music can cross over to a broader white audience," Condon explains. "And he'll do whatever it takes to get there."

Marty becomes the first casualty of Curtis's hunger to reach the next rung in the ladder, and ruthless methods for getting there. "What Marty sells is not disposable," comments Glover. "It's an essence of something. What Curtis wants to sell is a commodity, an object. It's the object he's trying to sell, not the person."

Curtis reinvents Early as a soft-toned crooner – not the carnal roadhouse lothario with the explosive voice – to play before society types in the Miami clubs. "But James 'Thunder' Early is too much a force of nature to fit into this box that Curtis wants him in," says Condon. "Curtis can't break down Jimmy's rough edges. He can't change who and what he is."

Condon saw Eddie Murphy as flamboyant R&B; star James "Thunder" Early even as he was adapting the screenplay. "I had Eddie Murphy in mind to play James Early from the beginning," Condon remembers. "Fortunately, like me, Eddie had seen the original 'Dreamgirls' several times. And he loved the challenge of doing something that doesn't connect to anything he's done before."

"Eddie took the biggest risk," adds Mark, "and he really went for it, aiming for the rafters."

"Eddie's the type of guy that can really do it all," notes Foxx. "His acting, his stand-up. All that talent. Then, he comes in here and goes into his song and dance number, it's incredible. You know you're working with great talent." Adds Knowles, "Look out when Eddie Murphy takes the stage. He rocks in everything he does. The middle name in his character, 'Thunder,' really doesn't do justice to describing his energy and the effect he has on an audience."

Curtis next sets his sights on The Dreamettes and goes with his gut – Deena, the prettiest one, the one with the softest voice, is the way into the living rooms of mainstream America. Says Condon, "He will groom them into this very sedate and sophisticated girl group. He reinvents them as The Dreams…but that involves putting Effie in the background. It happens in the blink of an eye. And just like that, Effie's dreams are obliterated."

Condon rolled cameras on Effie's character-defining song, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," during the final four days of principal photography, which allowed Hudson to completely inhabit the character of Effie before immortalizing her watershed moment in the story. "Effie is shocked, and she feels betrayed," says Hudson. "'And I Am Telling You' is about her heart and soul being laid out on the line. She's rejected by her family. They have all traded her in for something else. But she will not go quietly."

"In 'And I Am Telling You,' Effie is plaintively and desperately addressing Curtis, her lover," says Condon. "What she's trying to make him hear is not just the words to the song, but her voice – which is really the essence of who she is. Everything about the song, including how it affects us, the audience, is an integral part of the experience of this story."

Effie acts out, showing up late for rehearsals, disrupting recording sessions, not letting them forget the pain she's in. What they call success to Effie looks like one long compromise. "So she goes home," says Condon, "back to Detroit. She goes through her own transformation, treading an unexpected path, and suddenly a greater clarity about who she is and what she wants reveals itself."

Curtis has already replaced her with a young singer who has gotten her foot in the door by taking a secretarial job at Curtis's Rainbow Records. "She's a quick replacement for Effie when Curtis finally decides to get rid of her," says Condon. Michelle, played by Sharon Leal, becomes the fourth Dream and soon falls for their underappreciated songwriter and choreographer, C.C. "Michelle is pursuing her own dreams," says Leal, "when she walks in on all this drama."

Deena has everything it takes to cross over, but the woman who turns everything she touches to gold, and the one she sees when she looks in the mirror, are no longer the same person. "Curtis is obsessed with Deena, in part because she is his creation," says Condon. "He sees her as an image that he's packaging to the world."

Curtis sees Deena "as a product, a can of Coke," says Foxx. "He's willing to do anything to keep the music marketable, as opposed to really finding out what her sensibilities and her emotions are all about. Success is an exercise in compromise."

Having grown up in a singing group before emerging into her own spotlight, "Beyoncé has lived some of Deena Jones's story already," says Condon. "She was born to play this role and understands it intuitively."

"It took a great deal of skill on Beyoncé's part for her to turn into Deena Jones," observes Mark, "for her not to pull focus in the first section of the movie and to be a singer very different from herself throughout."

To physically embody Deena's transformation, Knowles utilized only a percentage of her voice and downplayed her cover girl looks until the time came for Deena to step into the limelight. "Because Deena's performance style is so different from my style, I had to hold back, to remind myself, 'Don't sing it in full voice, sing it like Deena.' She is all about subtleties—she's very feminine and sexy, in a subtle, slightly mysterious way," observes Knowles.

"Later, you see her growth," says Condon. "You see that she's more than just a naïve girl from Detroit. When she gets onstage, something very sexy happens. "People are going to be very shocked," adds Beyoncé, "because I know they might be expecting 'Beyoncé,' but Beyoncé is nowhere in this movie."

Deena's star rises because Curtis' instincts are right on target. "The thing about Curtis is that he's almost always right about things," says Condon. "And what he wants to do -- break through racial barriers to get black talent heard and seen – is heroic. But the more successful he becomes, the more brutal he is in his disregard for the dreams of the people around him.

"Curtis is someone who is addicted to dreams," Condon continues. "As soon as he accomplishes one thing, he's on to the next."

"When people think of dreams," says Beyoncé Knowles, "they only think of beautiful, shiny things. They don't think about sacrifice and the price you pay to gain success and accomplish those dreams. There are so many complicated things that come along in life. And we touch on all of those things. But, ultimately, it's about getting those dreams…and for many of us, making 'Dreamgirls' was a dream."

Condon infused the cast with two vital performers who appeared in the Broadway play a quarter century ago. Hinton Battle played James "Thunder" Early in the production as a summer replacement, taking over the role from its originator. "'Dreamgirls' is special because it is truth; it is reality," says Battle. "It really tells the story of how things were, the struggle of the record industry, with payola and how white recording artists were taking songs from black artists and making them hits. Ultimately, though, it's a story of passion and love and all the great things we yearn for. The film has an ability to reflect on the past, but also comment on the future by dealing with where African-American music is in today's culture. That's what makes it even more relevant today."

In another nod to the original Broadway production, Loretta Devine—who originated the stage role of Lorrell—appears in the film as a jazz diva. "At the time when we were doing 'Dreamgirls' onstage, we had no idea what we were creating and how important it would be 25 years later," muses Devine, who feels Condon's expanded storytelling will bring in a whole new audience. "The music is like opera. People respond to it because it's fabulous—it's beautiful; it's fashion; it's passion; it's talent; it's heart. And it has this great story, about love and about sisterhood."


"You don't know what I'm feeling.
I'm more than what you made of me.
I followed the voice you gave to me.
But now I've gotta find my own.
You should have listened."

The original Broadway production of "Dreamgirls" was "one of those experiences you never forget," Bill Condon remembers. "It was thrilling, with a brilliant cast and legendary staging by Michael Bennett. With the passage of time, I think it's possible to take a fresh look at this material. The story of the crossover success of African-American music during the 1960s resonates more than ever today, when African-American culture almost defines the mainstream."

"'Dreamgirls' came along when music was changing, when the industry began to recognize 'urban' influences," adds cast member Eddie Murphy. "Whatever they wanted to call it, it was the same thing – the R&B;, rock roots dug by black artists, that is now the sound of the times. And here was this story about this group that rode their sound into mainstream pop America."

"I saw Bennett's production of 'Dreamgirls' shortly after it opened, and it was an extraordinary, unforgettable experience," says Laurence Mark. "The look of that show and the music of that show have stayed with me all these years."

To transform the book – a written version of a musical play – into a screenplay, Condon wanted to hew as closely as possible to the original material, which cast such a powerful spell on audiences of all ages, from all walks of life, during its original run. For decades, the rights to this property have been closely guarded by one of the stage production's producers, industry legend and DreamWorks founding principal David Geffen.

When Mark first called Geffen, who is a longtime friend, to suggest that Bill Condon would be the ideal choice to write and to direct "Dreamgirls," the producer recalls, "David spent about fifteen minutes telling me very nicely that this movie would never happen because it was just too much of a risk to take. If it didn't work, he would feel responsible for tarnishing the legend of the show as well as the great legacy of Michael Bennett.

"I told him I completely understood and respected his position," Mark continues. "Still, I urged him to let me know if he ever wanted to hear Bill's ideas for the movie. After a beat, David invited us to lunch the next day.

"Sometime between the entrée and the dessert, Bill got to talk about what his approach to the movie would be - after which David immediately said, 'Well, it sounds like we should give this a shot.'"

The writer-director was heavily involved in pre-production on his acclaimed exploration of sexuality pioneer "Kinsey" at the time, but eighteen months later, Condon's first draft of the screenplay came in, Geffen was keen to move forward..

"David had been protective of this project for so long, and we were honored by his willingness to trust us with it," says Mark. "I think Bill has this movie in his DNA—one of the reasons he was put on this earth was to make it."

Geffen proved to be an invaluable resource to the writer-director. "David has these great stories about the evolution of the Broadway production, including the pre-Broadway tryouts of the show in Boston," Condon says. "When you see a show as an outsider, you might not be aware of the original intentions of the creators—and we took great care to be true to Bennett's legacy. He played a key role in not only the Broadway show, but also our screen version."


"When I first saw you
I said 'Oh my. Oh my, that's my dream, that's my dream.'
I needed a dream to make me strong.
You were the only reason
I had to go on."

Despite the enormous effect the original Broadway production had on Condon, for the film, he wanted to both honor the R&B; sound of the '60s and '70s while infusing the music itself with contemporary flavor. "Bill utilizes the drama of the piece as a catalyst for the music and singing," says Jamie Foxx. "There's a reason to it all, because the emotional truth of the piece takes you in that direction. Right after 'It's All Over,' BOOM, you're hit with Effie's 'And I Am Telling You.' It's not just singing for singing's sake. It's storytelling at its most raw and emotional."

In the film, as in the play before it, there are book songs and performance numbers. Though performances may often express commentary on story points or the emotions of the characters, book songs move the story forward. Music is ingrained in the characters' souls and is a powerful mode of expression for all of them. "The characters in this story relate to and through music," says Condon.

Mark says, "Because of the nature of the story, almost every number is sung either in performance or on or near a stage."

Though Condon already had a trove of powerful songs to utilize, he nonetheless sought to create new songs for the film. He turned to Henry Krieger, who wrote the original music for the Broadway musical (which yielded him a Tony nomination for Best Score and a Grammy Award for Best Broadway album).

Krieger collaborated on four new songs for the "Dreamgirls" soundtrack:

"Love You I Do" – Effie's breezy love song to Curtis (performed by Jennifer Hudson);

"Listen" – a passionate song sung by Deena, who transforms from Curtis's product into an independent woman as she sings it (performed by Beyonce Knowles);

"Patience" – a song C.C. writes for James "Thunder" Early to signal his budding awareness of social change, (performed by Eddie Murphy, Keith Robinson and Anika Noni Rose); and

"Perfect World" – an upbeat confection from Teddy Campbell, a child musical sensation rising alongside The Dreams.

"Twenty-five years later, I'm getting to relive the dream," says Krieger. "The show has been very faithfully kept intact and yet given its own vibration, for which I give all credit to Bill Condon's amazing screenwriting and direction, along with the collaborators who worked with the orchestrations from the original show by Harold Wheeler. It all comes out as being very organic to the piece. I love it."

Krieger co-wrote "Listen" with Knowles and other talented lyricists. The song expresses for the first time Deena's inner journey. "It's an actor's dream to have a moment in a movie like that – to have a song like that to act," says Knowles. "It says everything that Deena needs to say, words and emotions that any woman can relate to. It was amazing working with Henry—20 years after the original, to still write something so wonderful is incredible. I hope 20 years from now, I can still write songs like 'Listen.'"

Condon brought in music supervisors Randy Spendlove & Matt Sullivan, along with cutting edge R&B; producers The Underdogs (aka Harvey Mason, Jr. and Damon Thomas). Says Sullivan, "We stayed faithful to the original score as much as we could while updating it. Every note that Henry took down in that score was for a reason. Every chord strikes an emotion, and he knows what that emotion is. Musically, we tried to stay true to his original intent."

This unique group of collaborators spans various industries, movements and sounds, but all came together to aid Condon and the cast in creating the film's unique sound. They worked with the cast for roughly four weeks of rehearsal, which was followed by four weeks of pre-recording the entire musical. During this time all saw firsthand the profound gifts of the film's performers. Matt Sullivan notes, "Eddie Murphy came in as Eddie, and you could just watch him go right into James 'Thunder' Early, right in front of your face. Pow! And this voice would come out, which was not Eddie Murphy, but this great character that he had developed."

"Hearing Beyoncé bring Deena Jones to life was just as amazing," continues the music supervisor. "It's not Beyoncé, but Deena, whose voice is not nearly as strong. She pulled back effortlessly as part of her work on the character. And Jamie is such an amazing actor with an amazing voice. The tone and feeling in his voice—that can't be faked. He brought it all into the song and blew us away within five minutes."

Krieger notes that the film offers different interpretations of the original material as performed and recorded more than two decades ago, including the emotional show-stopper that brought the house down, "And I Am Telling You." "Jennifer Holliday and Jennifer Hudson bring very different things to 'And I Am Telling You,'" comments Krieger. "What Ms. Hudson does in a very vulnerable way isn't what Ms. Holliday did, and what Ms. Holliday can do in a huge, brassy way is not necessarily the same quiver of arrows that Ms. Hudson uses. Yet both bring wonderful qualities to this property. Each cast—the Broadway and the film—bring their own artistry to the material, and both are valid in their versions."

"To meet the man who wrote all of these songs that live so deep inside of people's hearts was incredible for me," comments Hudson. "It was coming in contact with history. He was sitting there, telling the story about playing the piano for Jennifer Holliday and we're working on the song. You can't put a price on that."

To bring a breath of contemporary movement to the trademark moves of the era depicted in 'Dreamgirls,' Condon needed a choreographer who would not be too firmly grounded in one style but could move and blend freely. "We talked to Broadway choreographers and classical choreographers, looking for someone who could reference the period and the original production, but also make it contemporary," Condon recalls. "The trick of the movie is that while everything is done in a period style, we want it to feel of the moment."

Fatima Robinson, who emerged from the world of hip hop, has choreographed for such acts as Outkast, Black Eyed Peas, Will Smith, Jessica Simpson, No Doubt and Prince. "Her spectacular work walks a fine line between staying true to the period and making the movement pop for today," says Condon.

"Fatima incorporates several influences into the dance numbers – Gospel, Jazz, Blues, Rock," says producer Mark. "She has pulled out all the dance stops."

Robinson choreographed Curtis's song, "Steppin' to the Bad Side," for her audition, outfitting her dancers with tambourines and church fans. "Henry said that when he saw my presentation, he felt that finally someone got the Gospel in the song that no one had ever really picked up on before," Robinson notes.

"I loved the choreography for 'One Night Only,'" comments Beyoncé Knowles. "It was so fun. It felt like something they would have been doing at Studio 54. I still have glitter in my house from that number!"

Knowles, who once worked with Robinson as a teenager, notes that the choreographer is "always doing something new. She's very knowledgeable about the '60s and '70s—we watched a lot of old Motown performances, which was helpful. And Fatima was great at making each dance number distinctive and different, which had to be difficult."

Robinson investigated dance footage and tapes of performers such as Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke and James Brown, and incorporated some of the "vintage" steps fused with her own modern choreography, to "put a little extra flavor on it, keeping it still true to the time but also making it timeless," she describes.

Eddie Murphy came to the table with his own array of moves gleaned from watching hours of performances of the men who, like James "Thunder" Early, brought a degree of sexuality to the vanilla '50s and '60s. "We shot some footage of Eddie, and then worked on certain things that he could do along with the girls," Robinson describes, "moves they could do together, and built on that."

The performers in "Dreamgirls" brought every ounce of their passion to the fore as they shot the sequences in which they performed these memorable songs. Though the powerful pre-recorded vocal tracks were played back at full volume during filming, every live singing voice could still clearly be heard over the playback blaring from the onstage monitors. "There isn't a person young or old who doesn't connect in some way to this music," says Spendlove..


"Don't care where I'm bound.
Got these four wheels
Spinnin' round.
Me and my two-toned Caddy
Gonna blow this town."

From the beginning, Condon's vision for "Dreamgirls" was a fully realized, grittily real world in which the fable – so infused with the stuff of dreams – could unfold.

"Dreamgirls" was shot on location in and around Los Angeles, in venues including the early vaudevillian Palace Theatre and the Orpheum Theatre and Pasadena's historic Ambassador Auditorium. Filming also took place in the downtown Los Angeles Alexandria Hotel, where location scouts uncovered ornate columns and plasterwork that proved ideal for the '60s-era theaters featured in the film. "'Dreamgirls' brings us to a time that signaled massive changes in our music, our culture and our society," says Myhre. "It's an exciting time to re-create and a wonderful show to reinvent for the screen. The 1960s was also such a great era for design. I thought it would be fun if we could find some of the sense of theatrics in real-world settings."

In the Palace Theatre, where the balconies are set against the walls prohibitively far from the stage, Myhre had box seats built around the stage to bring the audience closer to the action. Condon, director of photography Tobias Schliessler and the camera crew were therefore able to capture the reactions of the crowds watching the performers.

The Palace itself also yielded a set piece that provided them with a key component in the introduction of James "Thunder" Early – a manually operated lift for transporting props from storage below up to the stage. The special effects team fitted the lift with a motor and allowed Early to rise as if by magic before the star-struck Dreamettes for the first time.

Condon structured the film to be book-ended by two important performances, both taking place at the Detroit Theatre – the talent competition that brings the core characters together for the first time, and the farewell concert of Deena Jones and The Dreams. For both shows, the Palace Theatre stood in for the Detroit Theatre. "We chose not to fix it up," says Myhre. "The idea is that they could have chosen to do their Farewell Concert at any huge venue in the world. We thought it would be nice if they decided, 'Hey, it's our final show. Let's do it where we started.' It was nice for the movie to end up at the same place."

Production constructed sets recreating Miami's opulent Crystal Room and Caesar's Palace on the soundstages of the Los Angeles Center Studios. "It's an escalation of riches, so to speak," says executive producer Patricia Whitcher, "in terms of the types of audiences that they perform for and the venues they perform in."

A key set in the production is Curtis' Cadillac dealership, which then transforms into his offices and recording studios. "Curtis made money as a car dealer before turning record producer," says Myhre. "Dealerships of the period were so theatrical in and of themselves, they lent themselves perfectly to the musical aspects of the film."

Finding the right period setting for the showroom in contemporary Los Angeles was a challenge Myhre relished. "We drove up and down virtually every business street in town where there still exist brick buildings and lovely old architecture, and an absence of palm trees," he says: "We found a vacant lot that had a brick building on one side of it, and the real wonder was across the street – a beautiful brick church."

Myhre and Condon both sensed the presence of a church so close to the birthplace of this music was absolutely truthful to the world they wanted to bring to life. "When we looked at the church, I could just hear Gospel music coming out of it," Myhre recalls. "I thought, 'Wow, what a great way to ground the set we're going to build.'"

It took roughly thirty craftsmen two months to construct Curtis' dealership on this lot; the space was later quickly redressed to become the original offices of Curtis' company, Rainbow Records. To shoot later sequences as Rainbow evolves, production relocated the company to the venerated Los Angeles Times' building, with its beautiful wood walls, huge panes of glass and massive stone floors.

"These settings tell us something about the characters associated with that place," explains Myhre. "Curtis moves his cars away and their space is gradually taken up with recording equipment. The dealership is transformed into the Detroit offices of Rainbow Records. Then, when the offices are moved to Los Angeles, when Curtis and Rainbow are at the height of success, these offices are representative of what Curtis has become. It's a big, strong, masculine space that the other characters have to relate to. The building is almost him. It's the same with his house."

The finely designed contemporary home that represents the great success Curtis achieves with Deena's career was embodied by the famed Sinatra House in Chatsworth, California, which Myhre's team dressed with vintage finds from the early 1970s. The predominantly glass structure was owned by Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball at certain points in its storied history.

"This superlative team of committed artists and designers was able to conjure the transitional world of 'Dreamgirls' – from its Detroit beginnings in the early '60s to New York, Miami, and California, spanning two decades of cultural change. Working from well-chosen locations and beautiful, wholly created sets, they synthesized everything into a period-inspired place unique to this musical," observes Condon.


"I am changing.
Seeing everything so clear.
I am changing.
I'm gonna start right now right here."

Bil Condon wanted to tell the story of "Dreamgirls" through a palpably real lens, with all the imperfections intact. Therefore, director of photography Tobias Schliessler's cinéma vérité-infused style carried over from the football epic "Friday Night Lights" brought precisely the kind of grit he wanted. "We were going for an urban, gritty look," describes producer Mark. "Everything in this film, in a way, is choreographed. A musical, particularly this one, is about movement – not just of bodies, but of cameras, lights, sets, even storylines and character trajectories. The camera has its own moves, Tobias' cinematography has its own music."

"I was excited by the visual possibilities of this film," says Schliessler. "The realism leapt out at me when I first read the script. I hadn't even thought of it as a musical during that first read. I saw indications that the characters were singing, but it read to me that it was just dialog between characters. So, we wanted to keep it as real as possible, but still include the magic of a musical."

The department heads all collaborated closely with Condon on representing the arc of fame, and the level of success attained by the core group of people in the film, for his part, Schliessler set out to let the raw feeling in the beginning of the film to give way to more stylization as the story progresses. When the group transforms – as Effie is cast out, replaced by Michelle – a schism occurs in the look of the film between the two parallel stories. "The break between Effie and The Dreams breaks the photographic style as well," explains Schliessler. "In general, earthy colors for Detroit in the '60s and '70s, and pastel colors for '70s California."

There was also the added challenge of creating naturalistic bridges between the gritty real world cinematography and the stylized musical sequences. "The camera should move naturally without being too obvious, but you have to let the audience know, through camera work and elsewhere, that they are also in a different world," Schliessler explains.

To map out the camerawork for the musical numbers in particular, Condon and Schliessler took advantage of the breakthrough previsualization ("pre-viz") process commonly used in films with heavy visual effects components. They executed rehearsal runs with three video cameras to predict how a number would play out with motion picture cameras rolling and fine-tuned the results. Storyboards were then incorporated into the live-action foortage, along with sections of dialog in voiceover , giving Condon and his team a head start in not only shooting but editing complete sequences.

"This pre-production exercise provided all of us with a better understanding how to transition in and out of musical numbers," says Editor Virginia Katz. "We were able to see where the greatest challenges are and were also inspired to see how a given sequence would ultimately manifest itself."


"Never ever felt quite like this
Good about myself from our very first kiss.
I'm here when you call.
You've got it all
And confidence like I never knew."

As a counterpoint to the realistic approach taken with live action sequences for the musical numbers, Condon wanted to bring back all the glamour and fireworks that galvanized the original production. Only one team could achieve that level of perfection in terms of the lighting design – Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer. "'Dreamgirls' has a show-within-a-show aspect to it, and authentic theatrical lighting was essential to the look of the numbers," says Mark.

"We were so lucky on 'Dreamgirls' to have the best theatrical lighting team in the world," says production designer Myhre. "It was an honor to collaborate with Jules and Peggy."

Tony-winning theatrical lighting designers Fisher and Eisenhauer worked in tandem with Schliessler and his team to seamlessly integrate the styles of the performances with the off-stage sequences. A close collaboration was required, in order to keep their lights in sync with his cameras. In a theater, an audience member only has one point-of-view, whereas the motion picture camera has a transitional, moveable point-of-view. "In theater, we do things to change the audience's perspective by moving light around, adjusting levels," says Fisher. "In film, we have the added element of the motion of the camera to consider."

"Since theatrical lighting is designed to be viewed from only one direction and with the naked eye, it doesn't necessarily translate into motion picture lighting," explains Schliessler. "In the disco, we basically had 200 lights burning right into the camera…and if they're too bright and too close, they burn out. Our natural eye is more tolerant of extreme lighting levels than we can record on film. So I told Jules, 'I have to bring these levels down a little bit,' and in time they completely got it. It was a learning curve for all of us and ended up being a great collaborative experience."

Fisher elaborates, "Lighting for the stage is totally to please the eye. For film, we have to adjust it so that the emulsions of the film capture what the eye sees, and they're very different responses."

Though they let their imaginations run wild, the team also became guardians of accuracy and verisimilitude in creating sequences for the eras in which they're set. "As lighting designers," says Eisenhauer, "we are very concerned with maintaining the feeling of period, to make sure nothing is out of context or anachronistic."

And to also keep the story grounded in its musical roots. "Part of our design process is to choreograph the motion of light to match the music," explains Fisher. "Not only to match it from a rhythmic standpoint, but from an emotional standpoint as well. Lighting changes themselves are musical. If there is a percussive beat, the light changes on that beat; if there is a swell of violins, it can change over time with the swell. It's a way for the musical and visual elements to become seamlessly intertwined."

When Myhre created a disco inside Los Angeles' Tower Theatre, where The Dreams perform their version of "One Night Only," it became the ideal arena for Fisher & Eisenhauer to bring their immense stage lighting acumen to the production – Fisher had designed the lighting for New York's famed party palace, Studio 54.

"One Night Only" utilized more than 200 lighting instruments. "The sequence is reminiscent of those glorious '70s disco days," says Mark. "Jules had created the lighting towers and those lights that descended while people danced at Studio 54, which was an old theater that had been turned into a club. So we had him help turn the beautiful Tower Theatre into a disco."

For the song "Dreamgirls," which represents The Dreams'triumphant attainment of mainstream success, Condon and Myhre worked with the lighting team to create a sense of the group taking over the world. "We embedded light bulbs into our blue-sequined drape surrounding them," describes Myhre. "And when they sing, 'All you have to do is dream,' some of the lights appear. It gives the effect of a star field. Then, on another line, more lights appear, and you realize they're surrounded by lights – not just embedded in the drapes and walls; they're hanging everywhere. Then we lower the front-lighting on the drape so it vanishes behind the stars and Tobias' beautiful camera work swirls around and it feels like they're floating through the universe."


"Got a home in the hills, Mercedes-Benz,
Hot swimming pool, Got lots of friends.
Got clothes by the acre, Credit to spare.
I could wake up tomorrow
And find nobody there."

Oscar-nominated costumer Sharen Davis's challenge was to produce clothes that would evoke a sense of period but not exist merely as reproductions of the clothing of the '60s and '70s eras. "This was a revolutionary time in fashion and creating the costumes for 'Dreamgirls' let me run the gamut from what was happening on the street to the ultimate in glamour for the concert stage," she says. "The cast had as much fun wearing the costumes as I did designing them."

Davis holds the unique qualification for her participation in the film of chasing the dream of pop glory as a former member of a "girl group" herself. "I had a short history as a background vocalist, and I remember what I used to wear," she explains. "I was a theater major at the time, so I was working during the day on theatrical costumes and, at night, I was 'ooh-ing' and 'aah-ing' behind somebody. And when I went to interview with Bill, I said, 'As someone who used to do this, I'm just so excited to do the costumes for these girls!'"

As the life trajectories of the core characters in "Dreamgirls" evolve, so do the clothes – starting out as rough, raw and unpolished, "unproduced." As Curtis works his crossover magic on the group, that roughness becomes polished, refined and homogenized.

Creating the wardrobe for the film – which spans thirteen years in the lives of the characters – was a collaborative process with the film's other artisans. Color palettes of the costume designs were closely coordinated with the looks and colors of the sets, the lights, every aspect of physical production.

Davis describes the groups of the '60s as being as much about looks as sound. In their pre-fame looks, the The Dreamettes'dresses are homemade and somewhat homely, but fun and bright and able to move with the choreography. Once they are "on their way" – and held on an increasingly tight leash by Curtis – the freeness of the cuts vanishes, replaced with constricting tour outfits. But, at the same time, The Dreams also become the embodiment of heightened glamour.

Likewise, their makeup and styling – by makeup supervisor Shutchai Tym Buacharern and hair supervisor Camille Friend – transform as well. "When the girls first start they are plain and very simple," says Buacharern. "They're like girls from the 'hood who might pick up a magazine but can't afford to go buy the major brands. So they're drugstore products. Then, they become more and more groomed and refined."

"In the beginning, they start on the Chitlin' Circuit and they're very young," notes Camille Friend. "They would have to have very inexpensive wigs in those lean, early years. Deena even comes up with the idea to turn their wigs around to distinguish themselves, because they just know the cheapness of their wigs is obvious to their competition. I was in the wig store for about two hours just turning wigs around on my head to see how this would work."

Later, however, the young women grow into their glamour. "When we performed 'Dreamgirls' at the Miami Crystal Room, it was a two-and-one-half hour makeup and hair process before filming," recalls Knowles. "This is the point where Deena steps up and becomes the lead. She is making the transformation of her life – from Deena the singer into Deena the superstar. So, it was fitting that that number was blown out with these sexy, heavy dresses – corseted at the top and bustiers, the biggest hair in my life, and the bluest eye shadow I've ever seen!"

From wardrobe to makeup, hair and wigs, all of the key artisans sought to painstakingly plot the arc of each principal cast member to make certain the evolution of the looks reflected their progression. "The character's clothes tell the wearer's story," says Sharen Davis. "Deena goes from looking 16 to becoming this incredible diva, but her ladylike personality shows in her feminine choices from the start – dresses, never pants. Her look is sometimes childlike. Then, the childishness is banished and replaced with controlled sophistication while she's laboring under Curtis' detail-oriented eye. When she begins to come into her own, the clothes begin to relax. The colors and cut of her clothes explode into a burst of freeing, independent-feeling, color-saturated looks."

Friend referenced the hairstyles of the girl groups of the era, like The Supremes and The Marvelettes, and for the men people like Berry Gordy and James Brown. "Our wigmaker, Bob Krishner, made over twenty custom wigs for this movie," says Friend.

Effie, says Davis, starts her journey as "a diva with no money. This diva-in-the-making thinks she is the hottest thing, and her coat, which is a fake, is her signature. Then, when she becomes an ex-singer on welfare, those animal prints fall away, replaced with a palette of earthy, dark metals."

Likewise, her hair evolves as well. "Effie goes the opposite way from the other characters, her former group mates," says Friend. "In the '70s, we totally stripped her down of all her beauty, all her money, and she has totally turned against the glamour. She goes into a much more natural style. We took her wig off and used her natural hair. It made her very vulnerable, which really worked for the character."

In her final performance in the film, Effie's outfit unabashedly recalls two sirens of the 1940s – Billie Holiday and Mae West. Davis also referenced the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, as the inspiration for much of Effie's clothing choices.

For the Deena and The Dreams farewell concert, Davis supervised the fabrication of 15-pound dresses that incorporated various fabrics and materials, including chainmail formed from platinum sequins. The gowns sported in the Crystal Room concert were boned so heavily that the performers' movements were restricted. "Beyonce said it forced her into a position of such uprightness that it gave her absolute confidence in what she was doing as a performer," says Davis, "while Jennifer said it made her feel like a Barbie, and made her stand up straight, which she didn't like to do!"

All in all, Davis completed full designs for more than 120 looks for the women in the film, executing around 100 of them. Her research incorporated not only archival photography of the era but also the high fashion of the time to see what stars like The Dreams would have been wearing. "I looked at magazines like Ebony and Life, and footage from the Motown era, like appearances on 'American Bandstand,'" she says.

She also referenced the original Broadway costumes of Theoni V. Aldridge. "I know that the dresses they wore weighed a lot, and the look – with a 'bottomless train,' where you don't see the women's feet – made it seem like they were floating," Davis describes. "I use that look as well, as my way of paying homage to her and her work."

For the male costumes, Davis referenced such performers as James Brown, Jackie Wilson and Prince, but incorporated more modern fabrics that would allow the actors to move more freely and provide a more contemporary look.

"Jamie is a fashion plate," Davis describes. "He looks great in anything." The rich colors of Curtis' earlier hope and ambition are eventually replaced with a colder, harder sense of the "business" of entertainment. "His jewel tones give way in the '70s to a lot of black, clean lines, like what Donald Trump might wear."

Eddie Murphy as James "Thunder" Early would likewise recall the R&B; greats while not being strictly period. "Eddie's character was a lot of fun," says Friend. "He is an R&B; superstar, so we wanted to give him that look. I looked at different pictures of The Four Tops, The Temptations, and they all had beautiful pompadours. So we wanted to give him that look."

The '60s and '70s were a time of quickly changing looks and hairstyles, for men and women alike. "At one point, I wear this medium-sized Afro," says Foxx. "And I've always said, 'Never trust anybody in a medium-sized Afro.' I called it 'The Mean Wig.' You put it on, and automatically, you feel the character. That was part of Curtis, that wig."


"There's no way I can ever go.
No no there's no way
I'm living without you.
I'm not living without you.
I don't want to be free."

The music of the '60s and early '70s gave voice to a society in the throes of a revolution. When the sound of Motown began its saturation of the airwaves, it became the soundtrack for the Civil Rights movement breaking its way through the sheen of superficial Americana.

Berry Gordy, Jr., a professional boxer and veteran of the Korean War, couldn't sing but he could play a little piano, had a great ear, and knew how to write a song. In the 1950s, he met an ambitious teenager named William "Smokey" Robinson. With Gordy producing and Robinson writing and singing, they recorded the single "Got a Job" (an answer to the Silhouettes hit, "Get a Job") for New York–based End records. The song rose to No. 1 on the R&B; charts, but when Gordy received a royalty check for $3.19, he realized he was on the wrong side of the music business. In 1959, he created Motown Records with an $800 loan from his family. Smokey Robinson became vice president of the label. Gordy purchased a two-story house on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit and converted the garage and basement into the primitive Hitsville U.S.A. recording studio.

Gordy fastidiously scrutinized every new act he signed for wardrobe, makeup, wigs, choreography, and grooming – no detail escaped him. Echoing Gordy's philosophy, the company's first hit was Barrett Strong's "Money (That's What I Want)," followed by the Miracles' "Shop Around." A year later, the Marvelettes scored the label's first No. 1 pop hit with "Please Mr. Postman."

Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, and Diana Ross were girls from the Brewster Projects in Detroit, barely out of high school when Gordy signed them in 1961. Overnight, the former Primettes (originally a quartet) became the Supremes. In 1964, "Where Did Our Love Go" became their first No. 1 smash, followed by eleven more No. 1 hits over the next five years. They performed on "American Bandstand" and "The Ed Sullivan Show," and became an international sensation.

Berry Gordy's gamble birthed 110 Top 10 hits between 1961 and 1971, from such icons as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, Mary Wells, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Four Tops, and the Jackson Five. These artists and Gordy created the historic Motown Sound, a sound that defined an era and broke musical, racial, social, and national barriers. They charted the course of popular music and paved the way for future black artists to find success with mainstream audiences around the world.

"I remember being eight-years-old and begging my father to take my sisters and me to the Brooklyn Paramount theater to see Diana Ross and the Supremes," remembers Condon. "I was obsessed with them and other Motown groups at a very young age. I heard all of this amazing music in the context of the time – this famous march in Detroit led by Marin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights movement, particularly a speech in 1963. All of this history gives a scale and context for the story of 'Dreamgirls.' While ostensibly it's about the music and the rise of this group, just beneath the surface it tells a very personal story of the struggle African-Americans faced in seeking an end to the kind of accepted bigotry of the era."

"Dreamgirls" began life as a musical called "Big Dreams," written by Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger. The show was workshopped for Joseph Papp at the Public Theatre, with Nell Carter singing the role of Effie White. When Carter left to take the lead in the hit sitcom "Gimme A Break," the project was shelved.

One year later, Eyen and Krieger brought ten songs from the workshop to producer Bob Avian and Michael Bennett, the director/choreographer whose status as a Broadway sensation had already been cemented by his magnum opus, "A Chorus Line," which had earned him the Pulitzer Prize, two Tony Awards, and two Drama Desk Awards. Krieger played the piano and sang the men's parts, and two performers from the workshop – Sheryl Lee Ralph and Loretta Devine – sang the women's parts.

Bennett and Avian took the project on. Michael Peters was hired as co-choreographer, and the musical went through four workshops and numerous rewrites over the next eighteen months. David Geffen and the Shubert Organization joined Bennett and Avian as producers.

Jennifer Holliday, who would make Broadway history as Effie, was hired by Bennett when he realized that no one else could sing the showstopper "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" as well as she could. Shortly before the premiere, the title was changed to "Dreamgirls."

On December 20, 1981, "Dreamgirls" opened at the Imperial Theatre. The opening night cast included Holliday, Ralph, Devine, Ben Harney, Cleavant Derricks, and Obba Babatundé.

Bennett's stature made it one of the most highly anticipated shows of the season, and it did not disappoint. "Dreamgirls" was an instant smash, earning acclaim from critics and nightly standing ovations from sold-out audiences. Venerated New York Times critic Frank Rich declared it "Broadway history…beautiful and heartbreaking…a show that strikes with the speed and heat of lightning," and Newsweek's Jack Kroll called it "stunning and stirring."

In 1982, "Dreamgirls" was honored with a remarkable thirteen Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. The show won six Tonys: Best Book of a Musical – Tom Eyen; Outstanding Actor in a Musical – Ben Harney; Outstanding Actress in a Musical – Jennifer Holliday; Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical – Cleavant Derricks; Outstanding Lighting Design – Tharon Musser; and Outstanding Choreography – Michael Bennett & Michael Peters. "Dreamgirls" was also nominated for ten Drama Desk Awards, and won three.

Bennett's Tony Award for his choreography would be his seventh and final honor from the American Theatre Wing; "Dreamgirls" was his final production before he succumbed to complications from AIDS on July 2, 1987. He was forty-four years old.

"Dreamgirls" ran on Broadway for nearly four years, thrilling audiences for 1,521 performances, before touring the United States and traveling to Paris and Japan. Productions have since been staged as far away as Berlin and Malaysia.

Now, twenty-five years after first bringing audiences to their feet, "Dreamgirls" finally arrives on the silver screen.


Theatrical Release: December 15, 2006

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