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"Dreamgirls" recalls rise of girl groups

Associated Press Writer

Set in the 1960s and `70s, "Dreamgirls" doesn't profess to be a literal history of Motown or any other music scene from the past.

But the film, which is loosely based on Detroit chart-toppers the Supremes, does examine the issues that confronted many girl groups over the years. In this case: a calculating manager, relentless ambitions and ego-driven clashes among the artists.

Motown Hall of Famer Martha Reeves says she's glad that the film, which opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles and Dec. 25 across the country, is shining a spotlight on the sound, glamour and elegance of girl groups.

"Being a performer, I could identify with the development of the talent, our personalities and opinions and how judgments are decreed," said the 65-year-old former leader of Martha and the Vandellas, whose hits included "Dancing in the Street" and "Heat Wave". "But I couldn't say there was anything (in the film) like my experience in Motown."

The film, adapted from the 1981 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical of the same name, chronicles a fictional three-piece girl group known as the Dreamettes. Its two main members — Deena Jones (Beyonce Knowles) and Effie White (Jennifer Hudson) — were inspired by the Supremes' Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, respectively.

The three, who are rounded out by Lorrell Robinson (Anika Noni Rose), are discovered by manager Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx) and offered a job as backup singers for hit-maker James "Thunder" Early, played by Eddie Murphy.

Taylor eventually establishes the trio as the stand-alone act The Dreams and begins shaping the women's look and sound, a la Motown. As Berry Gordy did for Ross, Taylor grooms Jones for the spotlight, while the less photogenic Effie is pushed out. (Ballard left the group in 1967, ended up on welfare and died in 1976.)

In reality, the soundtrack to the film has more in common with show tunes than the signature Motown or Phil Spector-produced "wall of sound" style that characterized so many girl-group artists.

Charles Sykes, an Indiana University professor who teaches a class on the history of the Motown music movement, said girl groups rode a wave of popular music that targeted an emerging market of music-hungry teenagers. He said most of Motown's girl groups didn't necessarily stand apart from the label's overall talent roster until the Supremes began to emerge as superstars in 1964-65 with hits such as "Baby Love" and "Stop! In the Name of Love."

"The girl-group tradition kind of started around the mid-`50s, part of the rock 'n' roll era, and then the girl groups really started to wane in the `60s," he said. "Motown was an exception in that sense."

Lyrically, female performers of the era presented certain contradictions, said music journalist Donna Gaines, who contributed the chapter "Girl Groups: A Ballad of Codependency" for the "Rolling Stone Book of Women in Rock."

On the one hand, she said, many of the era's girl groups performed songs written by men on topics that largely reinforced societal gender roles. But groups like the Shangri-Las ("Leader of the Pack") and the Ronettes ("Be My Baby") presented more defiant music.

"It was music made by teenagers for teenagers, and on the surface it was a lot about your role assignment as a wife and a good woman, and you're supposed to be there for the guy," Gaines said. "But it also allowed you to pull away from the family and the community and make your own choices for yourself."

Many girl groups saw their declines come as quickly as their ascents, Gaines said.

"They were horribly underpaid and exploited. They had very few legal protections. They were just easy prey for exploitation and some of them met with very tragic circumstances."

Reeves, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame who now serves on the Detroit City Council, cited examples such as the Shirelles' "Soldier Boy" and Freda Payne's "Bring the Boys Home" to argue that Motown acts and others rose to popularity by singing about love during a turbulent period in history.

"The girls had their way in the `60s, I guess, because we sung through wars," Reeves said. "I remember the Korean War and the Vietnam War, and people would come to me and say: `Your music took us through it.'"

She added: "They were songs that took us through a crisis and people could identify with it."

Sykes, the Indiana professor, said he often compares lyrics of Motown hits such as the Marvelettes' "Please Mr. Postman," in which a woman eagerly awaits notice from her faraway boyfriend, to modern-day female lyricists and finds stark differences in what he called "the empowerment of the female image." But, he noted, girl groups capitalized on certain timeless elements of longing.

"There's a lyric in a Mary Wells song, `The One Who Really Loves You,' and she's talking about `little me,'" Sykes said. "And you'd be hard-pressed to find that in a 2006 song. But the idea of being a woman being the one who really loves you, that doesn't go away."


The following article appeared in the Fall 2006 issue of Fashion Rocks Magazine

The following article appeared in the September 2006 issue of Premier Magazine

The following article appeared in Issue 6 of The Works Magazine


Dreamgirls Wakes Up

David Geffen’s Long-Delayed Musical Roused to Life By Beyoncé, Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson, And We Are Telling You They’re Going—to the Oscars!

By: Sara Vilkomerson
The New York Observer

“She killed it!” excitedly exclaimed a male audience member, filing out of the Loews theater on 34th Street on Nov. 21, after an early screening of Dreamgirls, the $70 million–plus joint release from Paramount/DreamWorks.

He was referring to Jennifer Hudson’s rendition of the iconic Broadway torch song “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” five mellifluous, molto vibrato minutes that have suddenly catapulted Ms. Hudson, 25, an erstwhile failed American Idol contestant and Disney cruise-ship entertainer, into the position of front-runner for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. And that’s just the appetizer.

“It’s theirs to lose,” declared a veteran industry insider, of a Best Picture contest that is fast shaping up to be yet another battle between the elites of Los Angeles and New York (like Crash versus Brokeback Mountain last year): big fistfuls of Dreamgirls stardust flung against the gangster grit of Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. But even jaded New Yorkers, judging from the unabashed applause that followed The Song last week, seem to be in a receptive mood for a little old-school, feel-good Hollywood bada-bing. It is wartime, after all.

With that applause came a palpable exhalation of relief: This was not going to be another Rent or Phantom of the Opera train wreck. Dreamgirls, the movie, a quarter of a century in the making, the gay man’s Lord of the Rings, just might … yes! … live up to the hype.

Written by Henry Krieger (music) and Tom Eyen (lyrics), Dreamgirls opened on Broadway in 1981. The story of a Motown-like label trying to repackage itself to a mainstream audience—by taking away a big black voice coming from a big black woman and replacing it with a honey-hued beauty with a weaker voice—Dreamgirls won six Tony Awards and played for 1,500-plus performances. The play was directed and choreographed by the late Michael Bennett and produced by a young man named David Geffen, who retained control of the film rights.

Throughout the years, numerous attempts have been made to bring Dreamgirls to the big screen. Whitney Houston was reportedly attached at one time, as was Lauryn Hill and—yeowch—Joel Schumacher. But nothing ever came of it, until 2002, when the razzle-dazzle film adaptation of Chicago, after its own torturous adaptation process, struck gold. Written by Gods and Monsters’ Bill Condon and directed by Rob Marshall, it grossed $306 million nationwide and took home six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. And lo—musicals, which had gone the way of Starlight Express, were suddenly hot properties again in Hollywood.

Dreamgirls’ producer, Laurence Mark, who has worked on such films as Working Girl and As Good As It Gets, is a longtime friend of Mr. Condon. “At some point during the whole Chicago thing, Bill joked that he was being offered to write every unfilmed stage musical from Pippin to Got Tu Go Disco,” said Mr. Mark. “I said, ‘Bill, is there any anything in that Broadway trunk you’d want to do?’ He said there was one thing he’d love to do, but that the rights were impossible to get, and I said, ‘Oh, you must mean Dreamgirls.’”

Luckily, Mr. Mark was also a friend of David Geffen and was able to directly plead Mr. Condon’s case. “Once in a while, a Rolodex is helpful,” Mr. Mark remarked dryly.

Mr. Geffen’s reluctance to have the film made, Mr. Mark said, had to do with the fear of damaging the reputation of the show or Mr. Bennett, who died of AIDS in 1987. “So often, the movie version of a stage musical gets screwed up, and that somehow tarnishes both the reputation of the musical itself and the creator. David didn’t want to run that risk.”

Lunch was arranged at Mr. Geffen’s house. “I met Bill at the Beverly Hills Hotel a half-hour before the lunch to make sure we had our act together,” Mr. Mark said. “Somewhere between the entrée and the dessert, Bill got to give his six-minute here’s-my-approach. At the end of it, David said, ‘Well, let’s give this a shot.’”

The first star to sign up was Beyoncé, in the role of the Diana Ross–like Deena Jones, who replaces the more talented but less physically appealing Effie White (Ms. Hudson) in a Supremes-like group, the Dreams. Jamie Foxx, fresh off his Oscar win for Ray, was cast as Curtis Taylor Jr. Tony Award–winning Anika Nomi Rose became the third Dream, Lorrell Robinson. Eddie Murphy was convinced to play James “Thunder” Early (a hybrid of James Brown and Little Richard). Even Danny (“I’m too old for this shit”) Glover was brought on in a supporting role as world-weary talent manager Marty Madison. “The stars, in more ways than one, seemed to be in alignment,” Mr. Mark said.

But it was the role of Effie, whose heartache and betrayal is the emotional core of the production, that was always going to be the key bit of casting. It is Effie, after all, who belts out the reach-deep-into-the-spleen anthem made famous by Broadway’s Jennifer Holliday. Cue Cinderella subplot! Freshly dissed by Simon Cowell, Ms. Hudson, who had only known “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from an episode on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air where Will Smith lip-syncs the words, beat 782 other girls for the part.

On the Nov. 20 Oprah, Mr. Cowell ate what he called “humble pie” before a visibly overwhelmed Ms. Hudson in a surprise taped message arranged by the show’s producers, asking if she would thank him when she won her Oscar. The audience at the telecast had seen a preview of the film the night before; they predictably went wild for the sex-kittenish Beyoncé and smooth-talking Mr. Foxx. But when Ms. Winfrey introduced Ms. Hudson, adding that hearing her sing was like “a religious experience”—oh boy, they went bananas.

“Let me tell you about this movie,” intoned Ms. Winfrey—who also, let’s not forget, anointed last year’s Best Picture winner, Crash—in her best Ten Commandments voice. “It has kept me up for days thinking about it …. It defines sensational.” She also called it an “extrava-gahn-za.”

“I had to remember to breathe before I walked out on the stage,” Ms. Rose told The Observer. “I mean, Oprah is the most powerful woman … and to be on her show is one hell of a milestone. I thought I needed one of those paddle things to re-shock my heart into beating. I grew up watching this woman and this show, and now she has you on there for a good thing … not, like, because you have a shopping addiction or something.”

The Oprah appearance was but the latest in a marketing campaign that has been executed, with military precision, by the aptly named Terry Press, head of worldwide marketing for DreamWorks Animation, who has guided movies like Gladiator and American Beauty to statuette success. “She’s brilliant,” said a former colleague. “I’d sit in meetings with her, and I swear, after everything she said, all I could say was ‘Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!”

On March 1, over 200 journalists were bussed to Los Angeles’ Orpheum Theater for a set visit that turned (seemingly) into an impromptu cocktail party. Also in March, Ms. Hudson was fêted at ShoWest, the Las Vegas industry convention, as the Female Star of Tomorrow. In May at Cannes, a 20-minute sneak peek of Dreamgirls footage had the surly frogs on their feet. “We knew the French could be critical, and that they’d hiss if they didn’t like it,” Ms. Rose said. “But then they were standing up and were yelling. They were screaming, ‘More, more, more!’”

Dreamgirls seems destined to tippety-tap down the same yellow brick road as Chicago, both at the box office and at the Shrine Auditorium come February; it not only has that production’s star power, but more radio-friendly tracks (one of the new ones, “Listen,” was included on Beyoncé’s last album). But within studio walls, echoing Dreamgirls’ own themes, there were concerns about how to sell an all-black cast.

Indeed, the Cannes trip, Mr. Mark said, was “all about the fact that a period African-American musical, at face value, doesn’t sound like it has enormous foreign potential. We were just attempting to speak to that concern. I know we got lovely buzz, and much more than we ever anticipated, but the point of it at the time was to see if we could get some foreign groundwork laid.”

The emergence of the fleshy Ms. Hudson, in A Star Is Born mode, over the glitzier and in-real-life-better-packaged Beyoncé is something many seem to be cheering for. In September, she was again trotted out to sing a few numbers, this time in front of intimate groups of entertainment editors in New York and L.A.

Ten days before the movie officially opens on Christmas, audiences willing to fork over 25 bucks will be able to see the movie at L.A.’s Cinerama Dome, San Francisco’s Metreon and New York’s Ziegfeld theaters, along with a corny-sounding “road show” of behind-the-scenes displays and, of course, “exclusive” merchandise.

“It’s a doff of the hat to the wonderful old era of movie musicals,” said Mr. Mark, who, befitting the customs of his trade, demurred any award speculation. “Who knows?” he said. “I’ve been around the block enough times to know that at some point, there will be a nice bucket of cold water that will come down.”


Diana's 'Dreamgirls' decision

La Diva Ross dissed the Broadway musical -- will she destroy the film's Oscar hopes?

Tom O'Neil
The Envelope

The Oscar race for best picture may come down to what just one academy member thinks of one film.

If "Dreamgirls" is truly the best-picture frontrunner, as many pundits claim, this year's biggest awards cliffhanger may be the answer to this question: Will Diana Ross, the original Dreamgirl, finally embrace the fictionalized story of her career 25 years after it debuted on Broadway or, now that it's immortalized on film, publicly disapprove and turn on it like a true diva?

If the latter, "Dreamgirls" could face an Oscar nightmare and there could be an uproar in the best picture race not seen since director Ron Howard got caught sugar-coating the real-life story behind "A Beautiful Mind."

Some sources insist that Miss Ross -- as she likes to be called -- has finally accepted the show that may define her career, so much so that she, secretly, inquired about securing a role in the "Dreamgirls" film, but scoffed when all she was offered was a cameo as her own mom.

A longtime friend and colleague disagrees. While conceding that Miss Ross may briefly have flirted with the if-you-can't-beat-them-join-them approach, he says, "She hates 'Dreamgirls' because she feels like she's been ripped off, like its creators changed just enough key elements of her story so they didn't have to pay her royalties and then refused to give her any input on how her story would be told."

But that's showbiz, others say, and Ross is savvy about how it works.

J. Randy Taraborrelli, author of "Call Her Miss Ross," adds: "I think that Diana has decided that there's not much she can do about this and she wisely knows that there wasn't much Billie Holliday's estate could do about her when she did 'Lady Sings the Blues,'" a film that resulted in Miss Ross being Oscar nominated for best actress in 1972.

However, Miss Ross has taken digs at the Broadway show in the past, once telling the New York Times, ''The truth is that no one asked me for my permission, my involvement or anything. And though I'm happy that the girls in it are doing so well, I hope it's not a ripoff. I don't want people to walk away thinking it's the truth because I don't think they know what the truth is.''

But there's reason to believe she's mellowed since those words were uttered seven months after "Dreamgirls" debuted on Broadway. One year later she performed one of its songs, "Family," at her concert in Central Park.

There are conflicting reports about whether she ever saw one of "Dreamgirls'" 1,522 performances on Broadway or even half of one.

Now, the next plot twist: Will she attend the movie's premiere when it opens in December?

Her former Supremes singing partner Mary Wilson plans to be there, which may be another reason Diana may wish to dodge it. The two divas have feuded for years.

Or will Ross publicly oppose the movie?

If she does, and her disapproval is expressed passionately or, worse, with outrage, she could hurt it financially and even derail its Oscar hopes. Or will she be neutral and remain quiet about it?

Twice "The Envelope" asked these questions of Miss Ross in emails that were forwarded to her by her agent, but she did not respond. A message requesting comment about the film was left on her home business phone, but the call was not returned.

Whether she ever attended a full performance of "Dreamgirls" on Broadway is a fascinating mystery. She maintains she did not, often telling the press, "I didn't want to validate it in that way."

But some sources say she snuck up to a side balcony of the Imperial Theatre one night where she watched the show, unseen by the masses below. Another oft-repeated account claims she attended just the first act, then, horrified, stormed out at intermission.

"I think it would be very hard for Diana to resist seeing it," says Taraborrelli. "It's likely that she did sneak in and take a look at it. It's also likely, if that did happen, she would not have made a spectacle rushing out during intermission. But, officially, she maintains that she did not see it."

For the most part she's remained mum about her displeasure over the stage show since she's had close personal ties with people associated with it -- most notably, one of its original producers, David Geffen, who is now chief producer of the film.

"In the 25 years since the show opened, Diana has remained good friends with Geffen and has never mentioned it to him," reports her longtime colleague and pal. "She didn't want them to have an argument, so she's avoided the topic completely."

Ross was also best friends with Suzanne de Passe, who managed Jennifer Holliday, who played the Florence Ballard/Effie role. De Passe was a Motown exec who managed many of Ross' concerts and TV shows, too -- she even cowrote "Lady Sings the Blues."

"Because of the relationships she had with Suzanne and David, Diana felt that something should have been worked out" about "Dreamgirls," Taraborrelli adds, "and I'm not saying in a financial realm. I'm just saying in terms of her participation or cooperation or at least running it by her. She really had no pre-warning that the show was going to be so close to her life story."

The key difference between the "Dreamgirls" story and the Supremes in real life is what happens to Effie/Florence Ballard, the girl group's chubby lead singer who was pushed aside in favor of the slender/sexy Deena Jones/Diana Ross.

In real life Ballard suffered from such chronic depression that she was eventually dropped from the group.

Afterward, she failed to launch a solo career and died in poverty at age 32 in 1976. In "Dreamgirls," Effie rebounds after the split, has a hit music record and reunites with her ole galpals for a final farewell concert.

Some observers believe that "Dreamgirls" wasn't created as a fictionalized account of the Supremes in order to stiff Diana Ross and Mary Wilson out of financial compensation and story control, but because such tinkering with history was necessary in order to create a story that would work better on stage and screen.

That's a compelling argument and one that's forced Ross to be cautious about how strongly she expresses her disapproval of "Dreamgirls."

"Diana's really got to walk a fine line as not coming off as being against the film or being unreasonably angry about it," says Taraborrelli. "By the same token making it clear that one day she should, and hopefully will, do her own life story on her own -- like what Tina Turner did with 'What's Love Got to Do with It.'"

Meantime, Ross must decide how she'll respond publicly to the "Dreamgirls" film since journalists are certain to hound her for comment.

"She'll never support it," insists her longtime colleague and pal, who claims Ross may even be tempted to blast it publicly. "I wouldn't be surprised if she just finally blurted out what she really thinks about 'Dreamgirls' and let everybody have it. Remember who we're dealing with here -- a great diva!"

If that occurred, Hollywood might be tempted to side with the real, wounded veteran star over the fictitious film, thus derailing its Oscar hopes.

But one source close to the film insists that everything's fine, even claiming that Ross and Geffen have held private meetings behind the scenes during which they worked out all of their differences.

Reps for Geffen and Ross will not confirm that, and, eerily, decline all comment.

One hopeful sign that harmony may be ahead is the personal affection Ross feels for Beyonce Knowles, who portrays her on film.

"Diana has told Beyonce, 'If you need me for anything, if you have any questions or you need help with anything, I'll be there to help you,' which is a lot more than she did in 1982 with Sheryl Lee Ralph, who played the role on Broadway," Taraborrelli notes.

Ralph frequently tells the story of a nasty run-in with Ross, which occurred at the Russian Tea Room in New York. A furious Ross marched up to her, glared at her and pointed, raging, "I know who you are!" Then stormed off.

Perhaps Ross cares so much about Beyonce because she's the former lead singer of Destiny's Child.

"Beyonce really was born to play this part," says director Bill Condon. "Beyonce has lived a lot of Deena Jones' story already, having grown up as a teenager in a girl group and then emerged into the spotlight on her own."

To prepare for the role, Beyonce has immersed herself in Ross' old recordings. The two divas even look alike.

"Beyonce doesn't just evoke Diana Ross, she really is Diana Ross in much the same way that Diana Ross became Billie Holiday in 'Lady Sings the Blues,'" says Taraborrelli.

"We hope that Diana's love of Beyonce is what will save the day," says a source close to the film. "It even makes us hopeful that she'll attend the premiere and get on board to support the movie enthusiastically."

And she'd probably be wise to do so.

"Once 'Dreamgirls' is released, it will become the official version of her life," says Taraborrelli.


'Dreamgirls': The look is supreme

By Susan Wloszczyna

Dreamgirls is more than a movie musical about the rise of a girl group based on The Supremes, with songs that beg to be belted (And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going) and stars who can carry a tune to the top of the charts (Beyoncé Knowles, Jamie Foxx).

As good as the $70 million showbiz saga opening Dec. 21 might sound, this early-bird Oscar contender also has the looks to go along with the music.

USA TODAY's exclusive peek at the film's parade of updated garb from the '60s and the '70s suggests that Dreamgirls will be a dream come true for lovers of retro glitz. From bouffants to flips, the elaborate hairdos alone provide a well-lacquered time capsule.

"This is a costume and wig festival," says producer Laurence Mark. "Even the boys are wearing wigs."

The person in charge of that festival is costume designer Sharen Davis, Oscar-nominated for her work in 2004's Ray.

"The whole approach that Sharen took visually was to get into the essence of the fashion, and not be too literal," says director/writer Bill Condon, who wrote 2002's Chicago. With the '70s, when much of the action unfolds, "it's a fine line between design and parody," he says. The goal? More Mahogany, less Brady Bunch.

The outfits and hairstyles reflect the passage of time and the shift in a character's status. Hefty Effie (American Idol finalist Jennifer Hudson) is demoted from lead singer, and demure Deena (Knowles, doing her best Diana Ross with 40 costumes) instead fronts the trio known as The Dreams.

"We get to put on a multi-era fashion show," says Condon. "It starts off sweet and girlish in the early '60s, then moves to Vegas glamorous in the '70s." When Effie goes solo, "she wears more ethnically flavored apparel, while The Dreams are showbizzy."

Davis says her main challenge was to outfit very different body types, from 5-foot-9½ Hudson to 5-foot-2 Anika Noni Rose (as comic relief Lorrell).

"I wanted Jennifer to stay young, not matronly," Davis says. "She has really great legs and is not at all insecure." As for Rose, "Poor Anika had to wear 4-inch heels," she says. "But she looks great in high-end vintage pieces."

Then there is Knowles. "She just walked into all the period clothes. Everything looked great. She told me, 'I never had such an easy fitting.' "

For the 24-year-old queen of The Dreams, this is wish fulfillment. "I love dressing up in beautiful clothes and makeup," says Knowles, who knows about girl groups, having been in Destiny's Child, one of the most successful of all time.

"Even though it is period, it is still very modern," she says from a Los Angeles soundstage. "Whenever you have a movie that is powerful, it influences the music industry and fashion. People are going to relate. I'm young, and I relate."

'Dreamgirls' sing out about new musical

Beyoncé Knowles is R&B royalty. Jennifer Hudson got her break on TV. And the world has mostly been a stage to Anika Non-i Rose. Together, the three female stars of Dreamgirls are discovering what it's like to headline a big-screen version of a Broadway musical. USA TODAY's Susan Wloszczyna went to the set in L.A. earlier this year and spoke to the harmonizing trio.

Beyoncé Knowles

"Beyoncé didn't shy away from showing Deena's ambition and a little bit of cunning." —Dreamgirls director Bill Condon

Talk about destiny fulfilled. Knowles has known she was born to portray Deena, the ambitious lead of The Dreams, since she was 15. That's when she first heard about the 1981 Tony winner Dreamgirls from her choreographer, Frank Gaston Jr.

"He's been telling me about it forever. When I found they were doing it as a movie musical, I was like, 'OK, I have to take a deep breath. This is my movie. I'm Deena. I have to play this part.' "

As an actress, Knowles, 24, has shone in comedies such as Austin Powers in Goldmember, but no one knew whether she could tackle drama. One look at her screen test and the filmmakers realized they found their Deena.

Just because she has performed most of her life as a member of Destiny's Child, the most successful girl group in the world, don't assume that Knowles and Deena are one and the same. "I'm not worried about that. It's a character and we have parallels in our lives, but a lot of things are different."

Creative strife led to the exodus of several members of the now-defunct Destiny's Child, but Knowles says she didn't need to draw on real-life experiences. "I lived some of these things, but I'm not using any of that in my acting. I've created Deena as Deena and not as me. I don't even want to recognize myself when I see the film."

Knowles believes the story is still relevant. "It's really about the friendship. The women start off together with a lot of the same goals, they go through this journey and end up back together again. The great thing is, each woman individually realizes her dream."

Just like Beyoncé and her castmates.

Anika Non-i Rose

"Anika plays sort of the dumb blonde. It was a stretch for her to find Lorrell's ditzy quality. But as the movie progresses, she really grows up." — Condon

Two years ago, Rose came off smelling, well, like a rose when she took home a Tony as a maid's daughter coming of age during the civil rights movement in the musical Caroline, or Change.

But what was supposed to be her big break in movies gave off a less pleasant aroma: 2003's From Justin to Kelly, the beach-blanket blunder of an American Idol spinoff.

At least Rose, 28, found that playing Kelly Clarkson's best pal proved educational. "I learned about the process. There's so much difference between theater and movies."

Working close with Beyoncé Knowles and Jennifer Hudson made the adjustment easier. "We clicked from Day 1. All of us are just really secure in the people that we are. There's no competition. And there's a helping hand if you need one."

This day, she and her fellow Dreams are going solo for the first time before a white audience. More than a mile's worth of sequin curtains envelops the 18,000-square-foot soundstage while extras sit at tables. Having an audience react to their lip-synced swaying to the song Dreamgirls helps put Rose in the mood. "You need that energy."

She plays the funny one in the group. "Lorrell has moments of daffiness. She is a girly-girl and I'm like, 'Where are my sneakers?' "

Rose appreciates that there is more to Dreamgirls than just backstage theatrics, as it moves from the protest '60s to the liberated '70s. "These women in this show are fighting for their equality. Not to just be seen as black performers but to be seen as a group with class. To be accepted into any club."

But there is also something universal in Hudson's character Effie's tale of betrayal and triumph. "Everyone can relate to the time when they feel like they can do better and yet they are not being recognized."

After Dreamgirls, Rose might not go unrecognized much longer.

Jennifer Hudson

"Jennifer's Effie is completely without any filter. She can be difficult. But she is always telling the truth." — Condon

Being rudely booted off of American Idol in 2004 might have been the best thing that ever happened to Hudson. She could have starred in her own life story on cable TV, only to be told she was unconvincing — which just happened to Fantasia Barrino, the winner of Hudson's Idol season.

Instead, this Cinderella gal with the rafter-rattling voice finds herself in a role that turned another Jennifer — Holliday — into an overnight sensation.

"Effie is a roller-coaster ride," says Hudson, 24, of the plus-sized diva with the overflow of talent. "I like that because it is challenging and I accept any challenge."

That includes dancing and singing in curve-squeezing dresses. "We can't even sit down," she says as she tugs on her slipping bodice. "Well, I'm going to eat anyway. I have to. I'm Effie. I have to hold onto my jelly."

Hudson can't help but bubble over with confidence, and why not? Over in a corner, Jamie Foxx is intently taking on her acting coach in a game of chess. "They play all the time," she says. "Right now, I have it down pat, so my coach has nothing else to do."

One issue dealt with in Dreamgirls strikes a deep chord with Hudson: selling out and not being yourself to achieve mainstream fame. She says she had to do just that on Idol. "I got told, 'Everything about you is too much. Your size is too much. Your hair is too much.' Isn't that what a superstar is?"

She might earn that label and more once audiences hear her roar her way through the show's signature tune, And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going. She recorded it, then went back to make sure she put her stamp on it.

"I know me and Jennifer Holliday have something in common, which is our names and our vocal style. But I'm Jennifer Hudson, and I want to introduce her."


Cannes Gets Backstage Pass to Dreamgirls

Source: DreamWorks

Press attending this year's Cannes Film Festival were given an opportunity to see 20 minutes of never-before-seen footage from Dreamgirls, which opens in the United States this Holiday season. In addition, guests were invited to go "behind the scenes" and meet some of the talents involved in the making of DreamWorks Pictures' and Paramount Pictures' upcoming film version of Dreamgirls.

This evening, members of the media were invited to a cocktail reception at the Martinez Hotel Ballroom, which had been transformed to showcase the sets, costumes, music and dancing in Dreamgirls. Guests mingled with director/screenwriter Bill Condon and producer Laurence Mark to learn more about bringing Dreamgirls to the big screen. Also on hand to offer insights into their respective fields were: two-time Oscar®-winning production designer John Myhre (Memoirs of a Geisha, Chicago), who brought along scale models of different sets from the film; Oscar®-nominated costume designer Sharen Davis (Ray), with mannequins displaying a few of the film's wide-ranging costumes; award-winning choreographer Fatima Robinson, backed up by a video monitor showing her working out dance moves with the cast; and twice Tony-nominated composer Henry Krieger, who composed the original Broadway musical "Dreamgirls," and returned to write new music for the film version.

Following the cocktail hour in the Ballroom, guests were invited into the theatre, where Bill Condon introduced select footage from Dreamgirls. The director then introduced the cast members in attendance: Jamie Foxx, along with Beyonce Knowles, Jennifer Hudson and Anika Noni Rose, who play the film's title roles. Returning to the Ballroom, the press had an opportunity to meet and greet the stars and filmmakers over the course of the rest of the evening.

Hitting theaters on December 21, the film also stars Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover, Keith Robinson and Bobby Slayton.


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Gala offers peek at 'Dreamgirls'

By Fred Shuster
Staff Writer

There was plenty of wow on display Monday when Hollywood insiders got their first glimpse of "Dreamgirls," the star-studded big-screen adaptation of the blockbuster '80s stage musical slated for Christmas release.

Those gathered at the historic Orpheum Theatre downtown for a nosh- and booze-laden party got to then watch one number performed partially live on stage by the "Dreamgirls" themselves - Beyonce Knowles, Jennifer Hudson and Anika Noni Rose - grinding to a backup track of the song "Steppin' to the Bad Side."

The Paramount/DreamWorks co-production is being directed by Oscar winner Bill Condon ("Gods and Monsters") from a screenplay he adapted from the stage musical's original book. The film brings together big names from film, Broadway, TV and records with a cast that includes Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover and three-time Tony Award winner Hinton Battle.

"I was in the audience on opening night 25 years ago and it was unforgettable," Condon told the rain-damp throng at the party. "This is the last great unmade musical."

After pop star Knowles, "American Idol" finalist Hudson and Broadway actress Rose finished the number, which was performed with three tiers of male dancers in the background, Foxx ambled out for a moment.

"To see Eddie Murphy actually excited about something is really something," he enthused about the project, before insisting guests return to a tented area outside to partake of more food and drink. Murphy was not in attendance.

Set in the turbulent early 1960s to mid-'70s and loosely based on the story of the Supremes, "Dreamgirls" follows the rise of a trio of women - Effie (Hudson), Deena (Knowles) and Lorrell (Rose) - who've formed a singing group called the Dreamettes. At a talent competition, they're discovered by manager Curtis Taylor Jr. (Foxx), who offers them the chance to become the backup trio for headliner James "Thunder" Early (Murphy). The girls eventually get their own shot at the spotlight, which begins to narrow in on Deena, pushing Effie out.

Condon believes the time is right to take a fresh look at the story in light of the worldwide success of hip-hop and rap fashion and music. "It has relevance today at a time when black culture almost defines the mainstream," he said.

Behind the camera, Condon is collaborating with production designer John Myhre, who is up for an Oscar on Sunday for his work on "Memoirs of a Geisha." Also on board is costume designer Sharen Davis, who received an Oscar nod for her costuming for "`Ray." The choreographer on the film is award-winning music video dance director Fatima Robinson.

Filming began on Jan. 9 at the Palace Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, just blocks from Monday's event at the Orpheum, which drew a few hundred invited guests. At the party, there were mannequins wearing costumes from the production and small models of sets.

The original "Dreamgirls" opened on Broadway in December 1981, directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett ("A Chorus Line"). Bennett also produced, along with David Geffen, Bob Avian and the Shubert Organization. The show won six Tonys the following year, and toured all over the world. The initial production and cast album made a star out of Jennifer Holliday, whose hit single from the show, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," is now a standard.


Dreamgirls Begins Move to the Screen

Source: DreamWorks Pictures

The "girls" are back and the dream is bigger than ever. Principal photography is underway on DreamWorks Pictures' and Paramount Pictures' big-screen version of the Tony Award-winning musical sensation Dreamgirls. Shooting began on Monday, January 9, at the Palace Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, under the direction of Academy Award® winner Bill Condon. Filming on Dreamgirls will also be accomplished at Los Angeles Center Studios, as well as on location in and around Los Angeles.

Dreamgirls brings together an ensemble of award-winning stars from the worlds of film, Broadway, television, and the recording industry, including Academy Award® winner Jamie Foxx (Ray), recording superstar and actress Beyonce Knowles (Austin Powers in Goldmember) and box office favorite Eddie Murphy (The Nutty Professor, Dr. Dolittle). The film also introduces American Idol finalist Jennifer Hudson, making her feature film debut as Effie. Rounding out the main cast are veteran actor Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon), Tony Award winner Anika Noni Rose (Broadway's "Caroline or Change"), Keith Robinson (Fat Albert), Sharon Leal (TV's Boston Public), and three-time Tony Award winner Hinton Battle ("Miss Saigon," "The Tap Dance Kid," "The Wiz").

In addition to the first-look photo (click here for bigger version) accompanying this release, the first behind-the-scenes footage will be broadcast via satellite in a special Video News Release (VNR) that will be available on Thursday, January 19, from 5:00-5:15 a.m., EST and again from 1:00-1:15 p.m. EST. The VNR footage also can be viewed in a non-downloadable format at

Set in the turbulent 1960s to mid-70s, Dreamgirls follows the rise of a trio of women -- Deena (Beyonce Knowles), Effie (Jennifer Hudson) and Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose) -- who have formed a promising girl group called The Dreamettes. At a talent competition, they are discovered by an ambitious manager named Curtis Taylor, Jr. (Jamie Foxx), who offers them the opportunity of a lifetime: to become the back-up singers for headliner James "Thunder" Early (Eddie Murphy). Curtis gradually takes control of the girls' look and sound, eventually giving them their own shot in the spotlight as The Dreams. That spotlight, however, begins to narrow in on Deena, finally pushing the less attractive Effie out altogether. Though the Dreams become a crossover phenomenon, they soon realize that the cost of fame and fortune may be higher than they ever imagined.

Bill Condon is directing Dreamgirls from a screenplay he adapted from the stage musical's original book by Tom Eyen. An Academy Award® winner for his screenplay for Gods and Monsters, which he also directed, Condon earned another Oscar® nomination for his screenplay adaptation of Chicago. Academy Award®-nominated producer Laurence Mark (Jerry Maguire, As Good As It Gets, I, Robot) is producing Dreamgirls, with Patricia Whitcher (Memoirs of a Geisha, The Terminal) executive producing. The lyrics are by Tom Eyen, with music by Henry Krieger.

Behind the camera, Condon is collaborating with several acclaimed artists to bring the world of Dreamgirls to the big screen. Production designer John Myhre, who won an Academy Award® for Chicago and also garnered an Oscar® nomination for Elizabeth, comes to Dreamgirls following his highly praised work on Memoirs of a Geisha. Costume designer Sharen Davis, who was honored with an Oscar® nomination for her work on the hit biopic Ray, is creating the wide-ranging costumes for Dreamgirls. The creative team also includes director of photography Tobias Schliessler (Friday Night Lights); editor Virginia Katz, who previously worked on the Condon-directed films Kinsey and Gods and Monsters; and casting director Debra Zane (War of the Worlds). The music supervisors are Randy Spendlove (Chicago, The Aviator) and Matt Sullivan (Rent, Chicago), with the songs being arranged and produced by The Underdogs (Harvey Mason, Jr. and Damon Thomas).

In preparation for the cameras rolling, Condon and his cast have been busy for the past two months rehearsing the unforgettable musical numbers that made Dreamgirls one of the most successful stage musicals of all time, together with some new songs that have been written specifically for the big-screen adaptation. Putting the cast through their paces is Fatima Robinson, the choreographer behind some of the hottest music videos, films and live concerts in the industry today.

A co-production of DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures, Dreamgirls will be distributed domestically by DreamWorks, with Paramount handling the international release.

Dreamgirls is slated for release on December 22, 2006.


The following article appeared in the December 5, 2005 issue of Jet Magazine