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'Dreamgirls': Major Contender for Oscars?


A Tony Award-winning musical that had Broadway audiences cheering 25 years ago has finally reached the silver screen and is having the same effect on movie theater crowds. In another parallel with the stage play, the film version could a major contender for Hollywood's top annual honors, the Oscars. Alan Silverman has the stars and music of the movie Dreamgirls.

It is 1962 in Detroit, Michigan. Amateur night at a local music hall where three black teenage girls who call themselves the "Dreamettes" make their public singing debut. There's sweet, naive Deena ...her best friend Lorell ...and the diva with the amazing voice, Effie.

The Dreamettes do not win the contest....but they do catch the eye of smooth-talking salesman Curtis, who convinces them to take him on as their manager.

Under Curtis's guidance, they get new looks ...new costumes ...new hairstyles ...new music and choreography; and as "The Dreams" they shoot to the top of the hit charts.

But some of the changes that lead to their success threaten to break the group apart.

Curtis puts glamorous Deena out in front of the group and heavy-set Effie, stung by what she sees as a betrayal by her friends and the man she loves, powerfully - but futilely - resists being cast aside with Dreamgirls signature song.

Jennifer Holliday won the Tony and a Grammy for her performance in the 1981 stage original; so young Jennifer Hudson, who went from finalist on the American Idol TV show to the starring role as Effie, knows that her screen rendition literally had to hit all the right notes.

"One thing I thought about was my blessings and the fact that I'm in a movie with all of these stars and I get the biggest stage," she said. "That alone made me emotional - I'm a big baby."

"Also, I lived in the moment, as if it were really happening to me. What if my sisters who I had been with all this time betrayed me? Or my boyfriend dumped me for someone else ...how would I feel? Everybody has been rejected and I just tried to take off whatever was most real to me and close to me to make it that much more real," she continued.

Effie sings the song to Curtis, played by Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx.

"Man, when Jennifer Hudson sings that song and they have the camera on me first and they're telling me to hold it together because I'm supposed to be mean ...I'm [choking up]," he said. "It just blows you away and there is no way you can get away from that."

"So we did it about six or seven times for me to get myself together, but she was singing it along with the track every time. People on the cameras were wiping their eyes. It was incredible," he added.

Co-starring as Deena: pop music star Beyonce Knowles, who says her own group "Destiny's Child" was inspired by the original stage version of Dreamgirls.

"I knew that this would be important, historic and relevant ...and I knew Deena is not written as the strong singer or the powerhouse," she said. "She is actually not even the star. It's an ensemble cast, but I didn't care because I just wanted to be a part of something so wonderful."

The ensemble features Eddie Murphy as a James Brown-inspired character, a soul singer named James "Thunder" Early; and Murphy says he, too, is a longtime fan of the play.

"You approach it new because a play is totally different from a movie, so I wasn't trying to borrow from what I had seen," he said.

Director Bill Condon also wrote the screen adaptation and says there are changes - for instance, moving the group's hometown from the play's Chicago to Detroit in the movie - but most important, Condon says it had to work as a film.

He said, "I think for people who don't like musicals, the worst thing that can happen is a song starts and they think 'oh God, now I have to sit and wait until the song ends and the story picks up again.' That's something I was intent about not doing in this movie."

Dreamgirls also features Danny Glover, Keith Robinson and Anika Noni Rose ...and, of course, the music by Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger with an additional song co-written by star Beyonce.

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