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We're your Dreamgirls, boys!
—From the title song.
And I am telling you, I'm not going...
—Opening line of its most famous number
Opening in 1981, Dreamgirls is composer Henry Krieger and lyricist/librettist Tom Eyen's tribute to the lives and struggles of many 1960s R&B acts. A film version was released in 2006 after being in the works for years.
Mainly inspired by the story of The Supremes, Dreamgirls follows the lives of the Dreams, composed of full-figured and sassy lead singer Effie White, driven Deena Jones, and mousy Lorrell Robinson. With the help of Effie's songwriting brother C.C., the girls dream of leaving the slums of Detroit. They are plucked from obscurity by Curtis Taylor Jr., who becomes their manager, and arranges to have them sing backup for superstar Jimmy "Thunder" Early. While the Thunderman begins a long-term affair with Lorrell while married, Curtis falls in love with Effie. But when he decides to give the group their own act, he shifts his attention to the more conventionally beautiful Deena, pushing her to the top, and leaving Effie quite out in the cold. Years later, Curtis' ambitions for Deena clash with Effie's attempts to start on her own. More Drama Ensues.
This show features examples of:
- Adaptation Expansion: The film version features details not seen on stage. Most importantly, it features James "Thunder" \x9DEarly's untimely demise.
- Not to mention adding three new songs. At least one stage production goes so far as to modify one of the new songs, making "Listen" less about Deena changing, and more about her apologizing to Effie.
- Ambition Is Evil: Curtis, Curtis, Curtis.
- Author Existence Failure: Tom Eyen died in 1991, forcing Henry Krieger to collaborate with three separate groups of lyricists on the film's Movie bonus songs.
- Based on a True Story: The musical (and the film) are quite clearly based on Diana Ross, Florence Ballard, and Mary Wilson; better known as The Supremes. The musical was was somewhat careful about making its story less clearly based on the supergroup; the film, however, had no such qualms, and Mary Wilson even called it "closer to the truth than they'll ever know."
- The musical's biggest difference with reality is the survival of Effie White, the Florence Ballard expy; in real life, Ballard tragically died of a coronary thrombosis just as she was poised to launch a solo career.
- The film keeps Effie's survival intact, but also adds a subplot about Deena Jones, the Diana Ross expy, reconciling with Effie; in real life, Ross and Ballard remained estranged until Ballard's death, though Ross did establish a trust fund for Ballard's children after Ballard died.
- The film also directly copies several Supremes covers, and the song "When I First Saw You" is set to Deena being photographed in the same manner as several famous Diana Ross photographs.
- BBW: Effie, who is understandably quite pissed that top billing (and her boyfriend's affections) end up going to Deena because of her looks, even though Effie is the best singer in the group.
- Billing Displacement: Curtis makes Deena the star of the group and pushes Effie into the background because Deena is more marketable, even though Effie is more talented and the original lead singer of the group. Then for the film version, Beyonce Knowles (as Deena) got top billing while Jennifer Hudson (as Effie) was officially designated a "supporting actress", even though Effie is the main character of the story.
- Jennifer Hudson got a spectacular "And Introducing" credit and an Oscar, so perhaps it evens out.
- Boastful Rap: Jimmy's rap.
- The Cameo: Aretha Franklin, John Lithgow, and John Krasinski in The Movie.
- Cannot Spit It Out: A whole lot of drama could have ended before intermission had Effie told Curtis that she was pregnant with his child.
- In the film version, she tries, but is constantly interrupted.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Michelle, the girl Curtis hires as his secretary, later replaces Effie in the group. She has a bigger role in the play than the movie. Not only does she enter a relationship with C.C., she's the one who convinces him to make amends with his sister.
- Civil Rights Movement: Not central to the story, but racism and the civil rights struggle are brought up from time to time.
- Composite Character: Several; to name one, Effie is based on Florence Ballard with elements of Aretha Franklin and Etta James.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Curtis. When Deena's mom worries that her daughter is just a "product", he responds as though it were a compliment.
- Cut Song: "Ain't No Party", where Lorrell voices her frustrations at Jimmy for not marrying her. A shame it was cut in the movie, since it gives her a bit of an edge.
- Dyeing for Your Art: Jennifer Hudson, while having a nice set of curves herself, had to bulk up to play Effie as depicted onstage.
- Everything's Better with Sparkles: Jimmy loves flashy clothes (he claims he thought of it first), there's four cannons of the stuff in the finale, and they're all over the closing credits.
- Expy / Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: In addition to the leads, there's also the Jackson Five and the Sly & The Family Stone expies at the Rainbow Records concert.
- Face Heel Turn: While Curtis' more questionable actions are for the good of the group in the first act, by the second he becomes a full-fledged villain since the money and power had gone to his head.
- Fleeting Demographic Rule: Many Beyonce fans were confused when the film turned out to be about Jennifer Hudson though the fact the original promos only showed Beyonce, Eddy Murphy, and Jamie Foxx, you can understand some of their confusion.
- In-universe example: When Michelle replaces Effie, everyone acts like Michelle had been in the group the whole time, even though Effie was with them when they started achieving international fame.
- He's Back: Subverted with Jimmy's performance during the fundraiser / Rainbow Records anniversary special.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Carrie's assistant, Foxxy Cleopatra, and Tiana are a Girl Group under Mushu and his/their managers Det. Murtaugh and Ray Charles.
- Also, their song writer is the Green Ranger.
- The Ingenue: Lorrell and Deena in the first act.
- Inspired By: See the opening paragraph.
- Kick the Dog: Curtis to Deena (paraphrased): "You're popular because your voice has no personality except what I put in it." It's kinda weird when the person you're telling that to is Beyonce freaking Knowles.
- Curtis terminating Jimmy's comeback single for not conforming to the image he wanted to present, despite not having any particular plans to revive Jimmy's career himself. Especially heinous since Curtis owes Jimmy his career.
- Life Imitates Art: See Billing Displacement.
- Lighter and Softer: Arguably the driving force of the plot. The Dreamettes are refocused into The Dreams (and later Deena Jones and the Dreams) moving from an R&B to a Pop sound. Jimmy Early gets a similar treatment.
- As mentioned in The Moral Substitute, "Cadillac Car" covered as pop song.
- The Moral Substitute: The rock'n'roll tune "Cadillac Car" gets a defanged reprise in the very next scene!
- Motor City: The story of the film version begins and ends in Detroit.
- Movie Bonus Song: Four in all: "Love You I Do", "Patience", "Listen" (all three were Oscar-nominated) and "Perfect World".
- Never Trust a Trailer: The very first teaser for the Dreamgirls movie had three stand-ins posing and even used the original version of 'And I Am Telling You'. The original Effie was not amused.
- Oscar Bait
- Rearrange the Song: Effie's attempted comeback song, "One Night Only", is sabotaged, in more ways than one, by a disco version produced by Curtis and sung by the Dreams.
- Ret-Gone: Michelle is (poorly) edited over Effie in all publicity photos of the old Dream/ettes.
- Sassy Black Woman: Effie.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money: Curtis uses payola to help get his group to the top after the "Cadillac Car" fiasco.
- Scully Box: Anika Noni Rose is significantly shorter than Beyonce and Jennifer Hudson, let alone the men, leading to the use of tricks to get her in the same shot as everyone else.
- Seven Deadly Sins:
- Shout-Out: In the movie, Deena is briefly dressed as Carmen from Carmen Jones; one of Beyonce Knowles' first acting roles was Carmen in the MTV "Hip-Hopra".
- The first teaser for the film ends with the Dreamgirls sticking out one leg, just like on the theater playbill.
- Shrinking Violet: Lorrell, until she becomes sick of Jimmy's crap.
- The Seventies
- The Sixties
- Spotlight-Stealing Title: Curtis' fixation on Deena is made most obvious when he re-titles the group from "The Dreams" to "Deena Jones and The Dreams".
- Take That: Deena does this in the movie to Curtis after he says that her voice has "no personality" by singing the heart-wrenching "Listen". Quite evident she thinks so too when she finishes singing.
- That Reminds Me of a Song: The entire first scene at the talent show.
- Truck Driver's Gear Change: A few songs, including "I Am Changing".
- Two-Act Structure
- Un-Person: Effie became this when Michelle is edited over her, quite poorly, in all the old publicity photos of the Dreams and Dreamettes.