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WHAT’S HAPPENING BROADWAY FANS?!!! The celebration is on for Broadway’s biggest night just 18 DAYS AWAY. Our hearts are booming with excitement for The 74th Annual Tony Awards. We at New York Broadway Tours continue to play our favorite showstopping performances from previous telecasts coming your way on our TOP 50 TONY AWARDS COUNTDOWN. Live Theater is back, people!!! Are you ready for another powerhouse act?!!!
At # 18 on our countdown, we travel to Chicago in the 1960’s through the 1970’s. There, we meet an aspiring girl group that goes through the ultimate transformation into superstars. Along the way, they discover the drama that goes on when you’re dealing with the price of fame and how it affects their friendship and relationships. This is the legendary smash hit Dreamgirls. With music by Henry Krieger and lyrics and book by Tom Eyen, the show is loosely inspired by the story of Diana Ross and The Supremes and from the history of Motown and R&B.
From the 1982 telecast, the iconic Jennifer Holiday in her legendary performance as “Effie White” along with Ben Harney as “Curtis Taylor Jr.”, Obba Babatundé as “C.C. White” Sheryl Lee Ralph as “Deena Jones”, Loretta Devine as “Lorell Robinson”, Cleavant Derricks as “James “Thunder” Early”, and Deborah Brunell as “Michelle Morris” perform the big ACT 1 FINALE CLIMACTIC showdown confrontation scene. It consists of IT’S ALL OVER and the musical’s signature anthe, AND I AM TELLING YOU I’M NOT GOING.
DREAMGIRLS was first conceived in the 1970’s as a project for actress Nell Carter. The show’s creators Harry Krieger and Tom Eyen previously worked together on a musical adaptation of Eyen’s play THE DIRTIEST SHOW IN TOWN. During that show, they were inspired by Carter in that. Their aim was to create a show all about black backup singers. The original title for the show was called ONE NIGHT ONLY (named after the song in the musical). It was workshopped for Joseph Papp but then was dropped when Nell Carter began working on the soap opera RYAN’S HOPE. A year later, the musical was put back on the table when it got the attention of acclaimed director and choreographer Michael Bennett (the genius behind the Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning A Chorus Line). From there, the show continued with 3 additional workshops entitled BIG DREAMS and then eventually what we know today as DREAMGIRLS. During those workshops, so much of the storyline, songs, dialogue, and casting for the role of “Effie White” kept changing. One of the biggest early versions was that the role of “Effie ” initially dies at the end of Act 1 which did not impress Carter’s replacement Jennifer Holiday causing her to initially drop from the show. Carter later returned to the labs for the roles and then left again for her starring role on the NBC TV show GIMMIE A BREAK. With some of the changes improving in Act 1 and the expansion of “Effie”, Holiday returned to the labs but still focused on the role of “Deena Jones” (played by Sheryl Lee Ralph) causing her to quit again. Meanwhile the creative team continued working the script and after acquiring funding from music industry mogul David Geffen and fellow co-financiers ABC Entertainment, Metromedia, and The Shubert Organization, Michael Bennett brought Jennifer Holiday back in and made sure the 2nd act was rewritten and continued to build up the role of “Effie”.
The show officially arrived on Broadway in 1981 playing the Imperial Theatre running for 1,531 performances. Under the direction and choreography of Michael Bennett, the cast consisted of…
Tony winner Jennifer Holliday (later Julia McGirt, Roz Ryan, and Vanessa Townsell) as “Effie White”,
Tony nominee Sheryl Lee Ralph (later Linda Leilani Brown, and Susan Beaubian) as “Deena Jones”,
Loretta Devine (later Teresa Burnell) as “Lorell Robinson”,
Ben Harney (later Weyman Thompson) as “Curtis Taylor Jr.”,
Obba Babatunde (later Lawrence Clayton and Tony Franklin) as “C.C. White”,
Tony winner Cleavant Derricks (later David Alan Grier and Hinton Battle) as “James “Thunder” Early”, 4
Deborah Brunell as “Michelle Morris”.
It was nominated for 13 Tony Awards in 1982 winning 6 including BEST LEADING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL (for Jennifer Holiday).
DREAMGIRLS went on to tour all across America on and off. One of the most notable touring productions included a stop in New York’s Apollo Théâtre in Harlem back in 2009. Under the direction of Robert Longbottom, the cast featured…
Moya Angela as “Effie White”,
American Idol’s Syesha Mercado as “Deena Jones”,
Tony nominee this year Adrienne Warren as “Lorell Robinson”,
Chaz Lamar Shepherd as “Curtis Taylor Jr.”,
Trevon Davis as “C.C. White”
Chester Gregory as “James “Thunder” Early”,
Margaret Hoffman as “Michelle Morris”.
The musical is eyeing plans for its highly anticipated overdue return to Broadway. This new production is based on the show’s recent overdue premiere in London’s West End back in 207. Under the direction and choreography of Tony Award winner (and nominee again this year) Casey Nicholaw, Dreamgirls West End ran at London’s Savoy Theatre for 2 ½ years. Talks were also being made for Glee favorite Amber Riley (who made her West End debut with the production) to reprise her Olivier Award winning performance as “Effie White”. No word has been announced for the official start date or what Broadway house it will be performed in.
In addition to its success on stage, DREAMGIRLS was a worldwide smash hit on the big screen. The film adaptation from Dreamworks Pictures was released in 2006. Under the direction of Bill Condon, the filmed featured an all star cast consisting of….
Oscar, Golden Globe, and Grammy winner Jennifer Hudson as “Effie White”,
Grammy winner and Oscar nominee Beyoncé as “Deena Jones”,
Tony winner Anika Noni Rose as “Lorell Robinson”,
Oscar winner Jamie Foxx as “Curtis Taylor Jr.”,
Keith Robinson as “C.C. White”
Emmy and Golden Globe winner Eddie Murphy as “James “Thunder” Early”,
Sharon Leal as “Michelle Morris”
The film was nominated for 8 Oscars in 2007 winning 2 including BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS (for Jennifer Hudson for her iconic portrayal of Effie). The film also was nominated for 5 Golden Globes that same year winning 3 (including BEST MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY).
Today, there are still productions of Dreamgirls around the world.
Isn’t this the ultimate musical for standout powerhouse divas?
Mike Haber
Author: Mike Haber

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