Dreamgirls is the film adaptation of the Tony Award 1981 Broadway play. Dreamgirls follows the story of The Dreams, an R&B all girl group who rise to fame during the 1960’s. With a production cost of $80 million, Dreamgirls is the most expensive film to feature an all African-American cast. Dreamgirls was originally meant as a star vehicle for Whitney Houston (and later Lauryn Hill), but after languishing in development limbo for almost two decades, director Bill Condon, fresh off his success the success of Chicago, decided to helm the project.
Condon intended to cast unknown actresses in the roles of the Dreams, but Beyonce Knowles lobbied for and won the role of good girl Deena Jones. Anika Noni Rose, a theatrical actress and Tony Award winner was cast as Lorell Robinson after an a rigorous audition process. For the pivotal role of Effie White, over 700 actresses auditioned (including Fantasia and Raven Symone), but popular American Idol contestant Jennifer Hudson was given the role. While Beyonce had to lose 20 pounds on the now infamous Master Cleanse Diet, Hudson was required to gain weight to play the more voluptuous Effie.
Dreamgirls premiered in December 2006, and went on to gross $155 million worldwide. Reviews were generally positive, with most critics citing Jennifer Hudson’s and Eddie Murphy’s performances as the stand outs. Even Jennifer Holliday, the original Effie in the Broadway version raved about Hudson’s rendition of “And I Am Telling You.” Dreamgirls would be nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actor for Eddie Murphy and Best Supporting Actress for Jennifer Hudson. Hudson would join the small rank of actresses who would win an Oscar for a film debut performance. She would also win a SAG Golden Globe,BET and NAACP Image Award for her role.
The Urban Daily lists five reasons why Dreamgirls is one of the best films that captures the evolution of black music from the 1960’s.
Jennifer Hudson–Hudson’s Effie is the emotional center of the film. You feel for Effie when Curtis (Jamie Foxx) elevates Deena to lead singer because her smaller frame and lighter skin will appeal to a more mainstream audience. To add insult to injury, Curtis soon breaks off his relationship with Effie to seduce Deena. Hudson brings an authenticity in her ‘woman done wrong’ and her show stopper performance of the epic “And I am Telling You” is worth the price of admission alone.
Beyonce--There’s no denying that the camera certainly loves Bey. Even though Hudson would walk away with all the accolades (and that shiny Oscar), Beyonce did justice to bringing old school glamour and beauty of the 60’s to her role. In a montage reminiscent of Diana Ross in Mahogany, Beyonce reminds the audience why she is the present day queen bee of R&B.
Eddie Murphy– gives a career-defining performance as Jimmy “Thunder” Early. Murphy’s comedic timing and manic energy were a perfect fit for the philandering, drug-addicted singer. Jimmy was talented but troubled, but due to Murphy, the audience empathizes and even forgives him for his tragic shortcomings.
Fact vs. Fiction–Part of the fun in watching Dreamgirls is watching the parallels between the fictional characters in the film and their real-life counterparts. Foxx’s character was based on Motown founder Berry Gordy. His relationship with Deena was similar to Berry and Supreme’s lead singer Diana Ross. Jimmy Early was a combination of soul singers James Brown Marvin Gaye and Rick James. The payola scheme used in the film’s script is identical to the allegations made by former Motown executive Michael Lushka, accusing Gordy of paying off DJ’s and radio station to add Motown records to their music rotation.
Music–for the film version of Dreamgirls the original score from the theater vision was kept intact , with the addition of four more songs including Beyonce’s hit single “Listen.” The soundtrack was #1 on the Billboards chart when it debuted in December 2006. The Dreamgirls soundtrack was nominated for the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, losing to The Beatles’ “Love.” However, “Love You I Do” won the Grammy that same year for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media.