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The many lives of 'Dreamgirls'

February 28, 2010|By Susan King
  • 2010: Syesha Mercado, left, Moya Angela and Adrienne Warren are in the Ahmanson Theater production, opening March 2.
2010: Syesha Mercado, left, Moya Angela and Adrienne Warren are in the Ahmanson… (Joan Marcus / Center Theatre…)

Michael Bennett's "Dreamgirls" is one of the seminal Broadway musicals.

Those who saw the original production, which opened in 1981, have strong memories of this kinetic, fast-paced show loosely based on the lives and successes of such R&B stars as the Supremes, James Brown, Jackie Wilson and the Shirelles. "Dreamgirls," featuring the music of Tom Eyen and book and lyrics by Henry Krieger, was generally met with raves. The New York Times' Frank Rich declared "Dreamgirls" history making.

"Dreamgirls": An article last Sunday about "Dreamgirls" said that the musical features music by Tom Eyen and book and lyrics by Henry Krieger. In fact, Eyen wrote the book and lyrics and Krieger composed the music. —

Jennifer Holliday became an overnight sensation as the large-framed singer Effie White who galvanized the audience with her soulful "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going," winning a Tony Award. The show earned 13 Tony nominations and won six. "Dreamgirls" ran for 1,521 performances.

The show and Holliday came to Los Angeles in 1983 and it was revived on Broadway in 1987. The 2006 film version was nominated for eight Academy Awards. The new national tour, which premiered in November at the Apollo Theatre in New York, opens Tuesday at the Ahmanson Theater. Probably most of its young new cast wasn't even born when the original premiered. Here's a look at the various productions.

1981 Broadway production

Theater: Imperial

Opened: Dec. 20, 1981

Closed: Aug. 11, 1985

Cast: Jennifer Holliday: Effie White; Sheryl Lee Ralph: Deena Jones; Loretta Devine: Lorell Robinson; Ben Harney: Curtis Taylor Jr.; Clevant Derricks: James "Thunder" Early

Director: Michael Bennett

Choreography: Michael Bennett and Michael Peters

The set: Rich pointed out in his review that Robin Wagner hadn't designed "one realistic set" for the 20 scenes and nearly 40 musical numbers in the show. But what he had created was "a few mobile, abstract scenic elements -- aluminum towers and bridges -- and keeps them moving to form an almost infinite number of configurations."

Awards: Tony Awards for best book of a musical; lead actor Harney); lead actress (Holliday); featured actor (Derricks); best choreography; and lighting design (Tharon Musser).

Grammy Awards: best musical album and best vocal performance for Holliday's "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going."

Fact: Phylicia Rashad was a member of the cast and was also Ralph's understudy. After Ralph left the show, Rashad was not offered the part and soon departed the company.

The L.A. visit

Theater: Shubert

Opening: March 22, 1983

Closed: Dec. 24, 1983

Cast: Holliday: Effie White; Linda Leilani Brown: Deena Jones; Arnetia Walker: Lorell Robinson; Larry Riley: Curtis Taylor Jr.; Clinton Derricks-Carroll: James "Thunder" Early

Changes: Act II opening began with a reprise of "Dreamgirls" followed by a new song, "Step on Over."

Awards: L.A. Drama Critics Awards for choreography and vocal arrangement for Clevant Derricks

Fact: Derricks-Carroll is the twin brother of Clevant Derricks, who won the Tony for playing Early on Broadway.

The 1987 Broadway revival

Theater: Ambassador

Opening: June 28, 1987

Closed: Nov. 29, 1987

Cast: Lilias White: Effie White; Alisa Gyse: Deena Jones; Arnetia Walker: Lorell Robinson; Roy L. Jones: Curtis Taylor Jr.; Herbert L. Rawlings Jr: James "Thunder" Early

Director: Bennett

Choreographer: Bennett and Peters

Production supervisor: Bob Evian

Awards: Tony nomination for best revival

Changes: Though Wagner, costumer designer Theoni V. Aldredge and Musser were still involved, this "Dreamgirls" was the stripped down, bus-and-truck touring company. The Times' Rich remarked: "We see a stage nearly as bare as that for Mr. Bennett's "Chorus Line"; a black backdrop, a few hand-twirled "towers" that might have been constructed with a kid's Erector set, a small constellation of theatrical lights."

Fact: The revival was advertised as a "Michael Bennett production"; though he was credited as director/co-choreography, Bennett was dying of AIDS-related lymphoma at the time. In fact, he died at age 44 just a few days after the revival opened July 2.

The movie

Opened: Dec. 15, 2006

Closed: April 19, 2007

Cast: Jennifer Hudson: Effie White; Beyoncé Knowles: Deena Jones; Anika Noni Rose: Lorell Robinson; Jamie Foxx: Curtis Taylor Jr.; Eddie Murphy: James "Thunder" Early

Writer-director: Bill Condon

Choreographer: Fatima Robinson

Awards: Academy Awards: Supporting actress for Jennifer Hudson and sound mixing.

Golden Globes: Best picture comedy or musical, supporting actor for Murphy and supporting actress for Hudson

Screen Actors Guild Awards: Supporting actress for Hudson; supporting actor for Murphy

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