From left: Lorrell, Deena and Effie.
"We're your Dreamgirls, boys!
We'll make you happy.
We're your Dreamgirls, boys!
We'll always care.
We're your Dreamgirls...
Dreamgirls will never leave you!
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.
"And I Am Telling You I Am Not Troping":
- 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.
- Ambition Is Evil: Curtis, Curtis, Curtis.
- Artistic License – History: There's a scene where the Dreams are recording "Heavy", the shots before we actually see them recording is clearly of the Detroit "12th street" riot of 1967. There's even a small recreation of the event before we see them performing a rehearsal of Heavy at the television studio. The following scene, there's a brief shot of the marquee that states that the year is 1966, making the riot irrelevant to the plot (except to display the Civil Rights Movement that was appropriate for the era).
- 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."
- Boastful Rap: Jimmy's rap.
- Break the Haughty: This happens to Effie in the 2006 film when she gets kicked out of the group.
- The Cameo: Aretha Franklin, Loretta Divine (who played Lorell in the original play), John Lithgow, and John Krasinski in The Movie.
- 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.
- Costume Porn: The Dreams perform in pretty fancy dresses.
- 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".
- 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 And 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, Eddie 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.
- Green-Eyed Monster: Effie becomes this to Deena in the middle of the movie.
- He's Back: Subverted with Jimmy's performance during the fundraiser / Rainbow Records anniversary special.
- Hope Spot: It seems like Jimmy's CMOA until the pants come off...
- The Ingenue: Lorrell and Deena in the first act.
- Inspired By: See the opening paragraph.
- It's All About Me: Effie, at first.
- Jerkass: Curtis
- 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.
- Manipulative Bastard: Curtis.
- 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.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!:
- When Effie sings "And I Am Telling You," and tries to reason with Curtis, and he walks away.
- When Jimmy starts smoking in a room, and Michelle, Lorrell, and CC leave the room.
- Seven Deadly Sins:
: Curtis Envy
: Lorrell, for Jimmy's marriage Pride
/Wrath: Effie Gluttony
/Sloth: Jimmy, who does heavy drugs and cheats on his wife with Lorell, with whom he constantly dodges the issue of marriage.
- The Seventies
- 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 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.
- Triumphant Reprise: "Dreamgirls (Finale)."
- 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.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Try having the girls sit in the studio, recording a song for hours, while a riot is taking place just outside the studio. You can literally hear helicopters and sirens during Deena/Curtis/Effie's dialogue. Of course, early on there's a television in the control booth televising the riot, but Curtis literally pays it no mind. Instead, he looks onwards with his cigarette in hand.
- 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. However, she may have been overly emotional due to the fact that she was carrying his child.
- Your Cheating Heart: This happens to Effie when Curtis turns his affections to Deena.