DREAMGIRLS History

DREAMGIRLS History and Trivia

Dreamgirls is a Broadway musical, with music by Henry Krieger and lyrics and book by Tom Eyen. Based upon the show business aspirations and successes of R&B acts such as The Supremes, The Shirelles, James Brown, Jackie Wilson, and others, the musical follows the story of a young female singing trio from Chicago, Illinois called "The Dreams", who become music superstars. The musical opened on December 20, 1981 at the Imperial Theatre, and was nominated for 13 Tony Awards, including the Tony Award for Best Musical, and won six. It was later adapted into a motion picture from DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures in 2006

Background

Dreamgirls had its beginnings as a project for Nell Carter. Playwright Tom Eyen and composer Henry Krieger first worked together on the 1975 musical version of Eyen's play The Dirtiest Show in Town. Carter appeared in the musical, and her performance inspired Eyen and Krieger to craft a musical about Black back-up singers, which was originally called One Night Only and then given the working title of Project #9. Project #9 was workshopped for Joseph Papp; Nell Carter was joined at this time by Sheryl Lee Ralph and Loretta Devine, who were to play her groupmates. The project was shelved after Carter departed to appear in the soap opera Ryan's Hope in 1978.

 

 

A year later, Project #9 was brought back to the table, after catching the interest of Michael Bennett, then in the midst of his success with A Chorus Line. Ralph and Devine returned, and Bennett had Eyen, who was to direct, begin workshopping Big Dreams, as the musical was now known. Joining the cast at this time were Ben Harney, Obba Babatunde, Cleavant Derricks, and twenty-year-old gospel singer Jennifer Holliday as Carter's replacement (after Carter accepted an offer from NBC to star in Gimme a Break). However, Holliday left the project during the workshopping phase, as she disliked the material and was upset that her character, Effie White, died at the conclusion of the first act. Eyen, Bennett, and Krieger continued to iron out the story and songs. Cheryl Gaines and Phyllis Hyman were both considered as replacements for Holliday.

 

 

After two mildly successful workshops which included Jenifer Lewis as Effie, Holliday returned to the project, now known as Dreamgirls. However, she found Effie's role had been reduced significantly in favor of Sheryl Lee Ralph's Deena character, and Holliday eventually quit the project again. After acquiring funding from music industry mogul David Geffen and fellow co-financiers ABC Entertainment, Metromedia, and the Shubert family, Bennett called Holliday back and agreed to rewrite the show's second act and build up her character.

Broadway

Dreamgirls premiered on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre on December 20, 1981 and closed on August 11, 1985, after 1,521 performances. The production was directed by Michael Bennett, produced by Bennett, Bob Avian, Geffen Records, and The Shubert Organization, and choreographed by Bennett and Michael Peters. It starred Sheryl Lee Ralph as Deena Jones, Jennifer Holliday as Effie White, Loretta Devine as Lorrell Robinson, Ben Harney as Curtis Taylor, Jr., Cleavant Derricks as James "Thunder" Early, and Obba Babatundé 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.

 

Holliday's recording of Effie's solo "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" was a #1 single on the Billboard R&B charts in 1982. For the Dreamgirls original cast recording, the producers decided to present the complex musical sequences as individual songs, cutting approximately half of the score. The cast recording won two Grammy awards, Best Musical Album and Best Vocal Performance for Jennifer Holliday's "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going".

 

Phylicia Rashad (then known as Phylicia Ayers-Allen) was a member of the musical's company. Rashad was also Sheryl Lee Ralph's understudy; but when Ralph left the production, Rashad was not offered her role, and subsequently left the cast.

The Dreams and the Supremes

Michael Bennett, Henry Krieger, Tom Eyen, and the Dreamgirls producers deny any connections between the musical's plot and the Supremes' life stories, but the similarities between the show and true events that occurred with the Supremes lead to belief that the creators did actually base the musical on the Supremes; however denied any connections to avoid lawsuits from Motown, Berry Gordy, and the Supremes. Mary Wilson loved Dreamgirls so much that she named her first autobiography, Dreamgirl: My Life As a Supreme after the musical. Diana Ross performed "Family" from Act I in her historic free concert in New York City's Central Park, in July, 1983. Though the Deena character mirrors Diana Ross, Sheryl Lee Ralph states that she was not trying to imitate Ross, but, portrayed Deena in a similar, yet distinct, style.

 

Similarities between true life events and the musical's plot are as follows:

 

  • Both the Supremes and the Dreams started off with "ettes" in their group's name. The Supremes were originally the Primettes, the Dreams were originally the Dreamettes.

  • In the beginning, Florence Ballard originally sang leads just as Effie White did in the musical.

  • Both the Supremes and the Dreams did background vocals for established recording artists before becoming famous.

  • Diana Ross was chosen as the lead singer of the Supremes because of her distinctive softer commercial voice just as Deena Jones was chosen the lead singer of the Dreams.

  • The storyline of the love affair between Deena Jones and Curtis Taylor Jr. was modeled on Diana Ross and Berry Gordy Jr.'s love affair which eventually led to his emphasis on her career rather than the group's.

  • The storyline of Lorrell Robinson and James "Thunder" Early's relationship resembles Mary Wilson's relationships with fellow Motown artists as well as Welsh singer Tom Jones.

  • Both Diana Ross and Deena Jones were coached to be the spokesperson for their groups during press conferences.

  • The press was instructed to refer to Diana Ross as "Miss Ross" just as the press was instructed to refer to Deena Jones as "Miss Jones."

  • As Diana Ross was pushed forward as the star of the Supremes, Florence Ballard became jealous and hostile when she was forced into the background. Effie White reacted in a similar manner when Deena Jones was pushed forward as the star of the Dreams.

  • Both Florence Ballard and Effie White were fired from their groups because they missed performances, recording sessions, allegedly "faked" illnesses, and for gaining weight.

  • Florence Ballard was fired in Las Vegas in 1967 just as Effie White was in the musical.

  • Cindy Birdsong went on to perform with the Supremes the same night Florence Ballard was fired just as Michelle Morris went on to perform with the Dreams the same night Effie White was fired.

  • The Supremes became "Diana Ross & the Supremes" in 1967 while in Las Vegas. The Dreams became "Deena Jones & the Dreams" in 1967 while in Las Vegas.

1982 Tony Awards

  • Best Musical - Nominated

  • Best Book of a Musical, Tom Eyen - Won

  • Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical, Ben Harney - Won

  • Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical,  Jennifer Holliday - Won

  • Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical,  Sheryl Lee Ralph - Nominated

  • Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical, Clevant Derricks - Won

  • Best Performance of a Featured Actor in a Musical, Obba Babatunde' - Nominated

  • Best Orignal Score, Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen - Nominated

  • Best Direction of a Musical, Michael Bennett - Nominated

  • Best Chorography, Michael Bennet and Michael Peters - Won

  • Best Scenic Design, Robing Wagner - Nominated

  • Best Costume Design, Thoni V Aldredge - Nominated

  • Best Lighting Design, Tharon Musser - Won

 

Dreamgirls Fun Triva Links