"We're your Dreamgirls, boys! We'll make you happy. Yeah... We're your Dreamgirls, boys! We'll always care. We're your Dreamgirls... Dreamgirls will never leave you! No, no... And all you have to do is dream, baby. We'll be there!"
—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:
Action Dress Rip: A variant. When Curtis hires Michelle to be his secretary (out of a parking lot full of people hoping for a record deal), he asks how she's going to type with her long nails, and she nonchalantly breaks them off since they're fake.
Adaptation Expansion: The film version features details not seen on stage. Most importantly, it features James "Thunder" ¯Early'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.
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.
Big "WHAT?!": Lorrell does this in the middle of the song "It's All Over."
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.
Can Not 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.
Driven to Suicide: Jimmy. It isn't explicitly stated, but his overdose occurs immediately after his comeback single was rejected by Curtis, and Curtis himself even states that he "did it to himself".
Dyeing for Your Art: Jennifer Hudson, while having a nice set of curves herself, had to bulk up to play Effie as depicted onstage.
Earn Your Happy Ending: In the 2006 movie at least for Effie. Her song "One Night Only" goes back on the charts and she becomes a star.
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.
Jerkass Has a Point: Although he was being a prick about it, Curtis was right about how Effie's attitude was always bringing the group down and about her selfishness.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Effie. She starts out as selfish and arrogant, but she eventually mellows out after getting kicked out of the group.
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.
Also, Curtis using payola to force audio stations to play a disco cover of "One Night Only" by Deena Jones & the Dreams instead, stealing Effie's song.
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.
Greed: Curtis Envy: Lorrell, for Jimmy's marriage Pride/Wrath: Effie Gluttony/Lust/Sloth: Jimmy, who does heavy drugs and cheats on his wife with Lorell, with whom he constantly dodges the issue of marriage.
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.
What Does She See in Him?: Not stated in the show, but honestly, Curtis becomes overly ambitious, and after Effie falls in love with him he jilts her in favor of her friend Deena, while also cultivating her into a marketable product. And after all this Effie still states "You're the best man I'll ever know" and swears up and down that they're perfect for each other.