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Theatre / Dreamgirls

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"All you've got to do is dream, baby!"note 

"And I am telling you, I'm not going..."
Effie White, starting off the 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. As Jimmy 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, much to Effie's chagrin. Drama ensues.

One of the most beloved plays with a predominantly-black cast, Dreamgirls was nominated for several Tony Awards when it came out, though it lost Best Musical to Nine (Musical). However, Jennifer Holliday won the Tony for Best Actress for the role of Effie, and later a Grammy for Best Vocal Performance for the play's showstopping number, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." In the 2006 film, Jennifer Hudson won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the same role, one of the few performers to win for their first film.

The film version was one of two films in the process of being made as co-productions of DreamWorks and Paramount when the latter acquired the former in February, 2006, the other being Transformers, thus giving Paramount the worldwide rights to both films.

"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, whereas he only fades into obscurity in the musical, he dies of an overdose in the movie.
    • 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.
  • Alternate History: In the stage musical, the Dreams are almost as popular as The Supremes, with Deena openly referring to Diana Ross. In the movie, the Dreams pretty much are The Supremes.
  • Arc Words: "Showbiz. It's just showbiz."-sung by the backstage chorus whenever something really bad happens to the characters.
  • 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).
  • Bait-and-Switch: Used for a gag in the film version. Effie, who has been pestering Curtis about giving her a solo single, comes in fuming about a record released by a new singer. Curtis looks quite nervous and starts stammering...until he sees the album Effie's holding: a recording of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream," speech ("I mean, can he even sing?"). Effie breaks into laughter as she sees Curtis's positive reaction to her joke.
  • 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.
    • There's also a subplot where Jimmy "Thunder" Early creates an artistically ambitious song that is an analogy to Marvin Gaye's classic, What's Going On, that could have redefined his career. In the film, Early gives in to Curtis' disapproval and his prospect tragically plummet, while in real life, Gaye stuck to his guns and got his song released to massive success.
  • Big, Thin, Short Trio: The original Dreams line-up in the film version was this by chance. While Effie is always played by a heavier woman in all versions (either of the Hollywood Pudgy or Big Beautiful Woman variety), Deena is slender and Lorrell is played by the 5'2" Anika Noni Rose.
  • Big "WHAT?!": Lorrell does this in the middle of the song "It's All Over."
  • Boastful Rap: Jimmy's rap is centered around the things he has.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The Movie ends with Curtis recognizing that Effie is specifically singing to her daughter Magic, who is in the audience, and as he approaches the little girl the realization hits him as he stares up at his former lover on stage in bewilderment just as the credits begin.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Effie and Curtis make good points about each other. Effie was right that Curtis was a manipulative snake while Curtis was right about Effie's entitlement and her Never My Fault approach to life.
  • Break the Cutie: Lorrell goes through this when she watches the news and finds out that Jimmy died of a heroin overdose. She loses it and starts crying uncontrollably.
  • Break the Haughty: This happens to Effie when she gets kicked out of the group.
  • The Cameo: Jaleel White, Loretta Divine (who played Lorell in the original play), John Lithgow, and John Krasinski in The Film of the Play.
  • Cannot 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.
  • Cast of Expies Several. In addition to the leads, there's also the Jackson Five and the Sly and the Family Stone expies at the Rainbow Records concert, as well as groups and artists modeled after the likes of B.B. King and The Shirelles.
  • Catchphrase:
    • In the musical, when something goes wrong in a person's career, the chorus often sings "Showbiz, that's just Showbiz!" from offstage.
    • Curtis constantly tells people "Trust me." Considering his very first act in the story is manipulating his way into managing the Dreamettes, and he gets no less unscrupulous from there, it's almost funny.
  • Character Development: Effie grows from being selfish into more accepting of the choices she has to make.
  • 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.
  • Composite Character: Several; to name one, Effie is based on Florence Ballard with elements of Aretha Franklin and Etta James.
  • Control Freak: Curtis is this, and this led to Deena leaving him.
  • 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.
  • Did You Actually Believe...?: Curtis does a version of this with Deena late in the movie, when he asks if she seriously believes that she actually has any talent. He reveals that he made her the lead singer of the Dreams not because of her skill, but because her voice, in his words, was "empty" and thus able to be easily manipulated by him into something bankable.
  • Death by Adaptation: Jimmy; he initially just stormed off in the original musical, still alive.
    • Spared by the Adaptation: Deena's mother, Faye, who was also given a bigger role in the film; she was not only an actual minor character rather than just referenced by Deena, but came back at the end to help her daughter pack when she left Curtis.
  • 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".
  • Drunk with Power: Curtis apparently turns into being this when the fame and money goes to his head.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: In the film, when Jimmy drops his pants on national television, he expects others to find it funny. The others then criticize him for making a fool out of himself instead.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: After exposing Curtis' schemes, Effie's version of "One Night Only" goes back on the charts, in the musical it rockets to the number 1 spot, and she becomes a star.
  • The Eleven O'Clock Number: From the movie Deena's "Listen", as she finally stands up for herself against Curtis.
    • Later in the London Revival, the song is a duet between Effie and Deena as the two reconcile their friendship backstage after a Dreams concert, and both offer advice in how to handle Curtis and to handle themselves in the cutthroat world of Show Business.
  • 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.
  • Extreme Doormat: Deena shows shades of this when she doesn't stand up to Effie and Curtis when they criticize her. She does eventually grow out of this.
  • 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 have gone to his head.
  • Flat Character: Michelle, Effie's replacement in the Dreams, gets this treatment in the film—while the other three members get their own plot lines, she's largely just there to serve as a reminder that Effie was kicked out and fill in the trio. This isn't the case in the stage version, where she enters a relationship with C.C. and proves to be the catalyst to him reconciling with his sister Effie.
  • 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, Curtis—and by extension the world—acts like Michelle had been in the group the whole time, even though Effie was with them when they started achieving international fame.
  • Good Parents: Effie and CC's father. He is the only one to not have abandoned Effie, he gives her good advice which overlaps with Tough Love, and he's always there for Effie when she needs him.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Effie becomes this to Deena after Curtis drops her in favor of Deena as the lead singer.
  • He's Back!: Subverted with Jimmy's performance during the fundraiser / Rainbow Records anniversary special.
  • Honest John's Dealership: Curtis is a high-flying, smooth-talking manager for the likes of the Dreams and Jimmy Early, but it turns out he's gotten involved in various borderline-illegal schemes to grow his label—including payola schemes to radio stations, accepting dirty money from the Mob, and even the theft of Effie's single "One Night Only" for re-recording by Deena. It doesn't help that he was actually also a car salesman in the beginning; he sold Jimmy his Cadillac. (Ironically enough Jimmy's car doesn't actually cause him any problems, and Curtis is rather more successful as a salesman than the average Honest John, it just takes much longer for his underhandedness to be found out).
  • Hope Spot: Jimmy appears to turn his life around ... until the pants fall off during his fundraiser performance.
  • The Ingenue: Lorrell and Deena split this role in the first act of the musical and movie. Lorrell has the Ingenue's starstruck love, while Deena takes the share that longs for fame and fortune.
  • Inspired by…: The original musical is heavily based on the lives and music of the members of The Supremes; the groups' titles even rhyme slightly (Supremes/Dreams). The movie is even more blatant about the inspiration, as Deena recreates photos that Diana Ross (her analogue—note the similarities between their names) took in real life.
  • Internal Retcon: In the film, Curtis tries to pretend that the Dreams' lineup was always Deena, Lorrell, and Michelle, going so far as to doctor old photos which have Effie in them and replacing her with Michelle. This makes the final song, when Deena acknowledges that there are four Dreams and brings Effie out to lead the group in their original hit "Dreamgirls," all the sweeter.
  • It's All About Me: Effie, at first. This is due to her arrogance and the fact that she felt entitled to attention due to her being the best singer in the group.
  • Jerkass: Curtis is revealed to be this in the climax of the movie.
  • 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. Even Deena comes to agree with him.
    • Curtis was also right about how Jimmy made a fool out of himself when he dropped his pants on TV during the label’s anniversary special.
    • Effie is made out to be selfish and immature, but her anger is pretty justified since she had been the Dreamettes' lead singer for years until Curtis made Deena the frontwoman due to her marketability, especially since Curtis was Effie's boyfriend and he basically told her she's not conventionally beautiful enough to move records.
  • 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. Even the other characters call him out on this.
    • In-universe, the last straw for Deena was when Curtis pulled the plug on the gritty film project she wanted to undertake, forcing her into his Cleopatra movie that she had no interest in.
      • Which was an expy of the Mahogany movie that Diana Ross starred in.
  • 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.
  • Meaningful Name: Sort of. If you consider Jimmy Early suddenly rapping on stage in the late 1960s / early 1970s, at least a decade before the commonly acknowledged beginnings of hip hop music in the late 1970s, that makes him an early rapper.
  • Minor Role Major Impact: In the film, a jazz singer (played by Loretta Devine, the original Lorrell) only appears for one scene during a memorial to Jimmy Early, singing "I Miss You, Old Friend." However, the song inspires C.C. to reach out and reconnect with Effie, which in turn leads to his producing her record "One Night Only"—which Curtis promptly steals to rework as a disco hit for the Dreams. The theft, and C.C.'s discovery of it, is what finally exposes Curtis's crimes, gets him heavily fined, boosts Effie's career, and leads to a happy reconciliation with the Dreams. Needless to say, that jazz singer did a lot. In the stage musical, it's Michelle, Effie's replacement in the group, who convinces C.C. (who she's now dating) to reconcile with his sister.
  • Money, Dear Boy: This crosses over with Motive Decay In-Universe for Curtis. While in the first act, he does seem genuinely interested in supporting Black voices and striking back against crimes like payola and white people stealing Black songs, he gradually loses those purer motives as he becomes rich and powerful. It's exemplified in the film when he refuses to let Jimmy and Deena record "Patience," a protest song and commentary on race relations that C.C. wrote; when C.C. protests that music is supposed to call attention to problems in the world and speak to multiple people, Curtis coldly replies "Music is supposed to sell."
  • The Moral Substitute: The rock'n'roll tune "Cadillac Car" gets a defanged reprise in the very next scene!
  • More Experienced Chases the Innocent: When the Dreamettes become backup singers for Jimmy Early, who is a notorious womanizer despite being married, Jimmy instantly takes a liking to Lorrell, the shyest and mousiest of the three, and eventually woos her (The Movie makes it clear that he took her virginity as well). After the 7-year Time Skip that occurs between acts 1 and 2, it becomes clear Jimmy won't divorce his wife to marry Lorrell, despite leading her to believe otherwise for almost a decade. She eventually tires of his crap and finally ends the affair.
  • Movie Bonus Song: Four in all: "Love You I Do", "Patience", "Listen" (all three were Oscar-nominated) and "Perfect World".
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: Deconstructed with Lorrell. Much of the film's plot centers on the rivalry between Deena and Effie, with Lorrell trying to keep the peace between them; as a result, she's often pushed to the side and not heard when the group is making decisions. But eventually, The Dog Bites Back, and she calls out Effie for not just her selfishness, but also treating her as a second-rate member of the Dreams and telling her to stay out of their business ("I'm as much a part of this group as anybody else!").
  • Never My Fault: Curtis strongly runs on this, namely with his lack of responsibility after Jimmy's overdose. Effie also has shades of this, which delayed her comeback for several years. Marty even calls her out on this.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The very first teaser for the Dreamgirls movie had three stand-ins posing and even used the original Broadway version of 'And I Am Telling You'. Jennifer Holliday, the original Effie was not amused.
  • Oh, Crap!: In the final scene of the film when the Dreams are performing together for the last time and Effie joins them onstage, Curtis sees Magic sitting with Effie's father and walks over to take a closer look, and is horrified when he realizes she's his daughter.
  • Pet the Dog: As awful as Curtis was, he did give Effie a lot of money when he bought her out of her contract.
  • The Pete Best: Invoked in the film, Deena at the start of the second half of the film, watches a documentary produced by Curtis about "The Dreams", in which Effie is consciously omitted from the history of the group and replaced by Michelle.
  • 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.
  • "Reason You Suck" Speech: 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.
  • Re-Cut: An "Extended Director's Cut", released in 2017note , adds 10 minutes' worth of additional footage, including the songs "Jimmy Don't Crawl" and "Effie, Sing My Song".
  • Ret-Gone: Michelle is (poorly) edited over Effie in all publicity photos of the old Dream/ettes.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Effie comes across as one, but it's ultimately deconstructed, as the film show what happens when other people get tired of being sassed and pushed around.
  • 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:
    • Effie gets a moment when she decides to walk out of the recording session of the video "Heavy" on national television. Her facial expression helps.
    • When Effie sings "And I Am Telling You," and tries to reason with Curtis, and he walks away.
    • When Jimmy starts smoking crack in a room, and Michelle, Lorrell, and CC leave the room.
    • Played for Drama when Lorrell starts to walk away from Jimmy—and thus their relationship—and he grabs her arm while saying he loves her. She sighs and sings that she loves him, too...but she can't deal with his immaturity and drug use any longer, and so ends things then and there.
  • Seven Deadly Sins: The main characters fall into this trope:
    • Greed: Curtis
    • Envy: Lorrell, for Jimmy's marriage. Also, Effie for Curtis' growing attraction to Deena and the attention Deena was getting as the lead singer.
    • Pride/Wrath: Effie; while she is undoubtedly talented, she's also extremely self-centered and only thinks about herself, believing that her skill justifies it. The Wrath appears when anyone tries to correct her or call her out for her bad behavior.
    • Gluttony/Lust/Sloth: Jimmy, who does heavy drugs and cheats on his wife with Lorrell (and, it is implied, with other women before she came along); he's also too comfortable in his marriage to actually get a divorce and won't work with Lorrell by talking about it.
  • The '70s: Act 2 takes place in this decade.
  • 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 '60s: Act 1 takes place in the decade.
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: Deena to the other Dreams, to Effie's detestation, and later both Lorrell and Michelle show some slight signs of resentment as well.
    Photographer: Ladies you mind if we get a picture of Ms. Jones alone?
    Lorrell: (slightly sarcastic) Oh no, that's okay.
    Michelle: (matching Lorrell's sarcasm) Oh that's just fine. Pretend we're not here! It happens all the time!
  • 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".
  • Stepping Stone Spouse: Curtis dates Effie for a long time, happy to be with her as long as she was the lead singer of the group, even though the group was struggling. But as the group grows in fame and Deena is moved to the forefront, Curtis' attention wanders. Eventually, Deena is made the permanent new lead and Curtis completely dumps Effie to be with Deena. Effie is eventually edged out of the group and left to return to poverty, while Curtis and Deena enjoy a luxurious life built off of what was originally Effie's dream.
  • Stylistic Suck: The "whitened up" version of "Cadillac Car."
  • That Reminds Me of a Song: The entire first scene at the talent show.
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: Well, not evil, but a version of this trope shows up when Jimmy performs at the Rainbow Records fundraiser. Curtis has tried to remake him as "James Early," a mellow soul singer—but in the middle of his song, Jimmy (who's also into heavy drugs at this point) can't bear trying to be something he's not for a second longer ("I can't sing no more sad songs!") and breaks into a profane, innuendo-laden rap/spoken-word performance that culminates in him dropping his pants on live television. If the world is going to treat him as a drug-addled "bad boy," then that's exactly what he's going to give the audience.
  • Triumphant Reprise: "Dreamgirls (Finale)" has Effie move up from the background, to lead vocals.
  • Truck Driver's Gear Change: A few songs, including "I Am Changing".
  • Two-Act Structure: The first act follows the formation of the group and their rise to super stardom. Act 2 is all about the costs that fame and success comes with.
  • The Unfair Sex: Lorrell has an affair with Jimmy Early, who's married. Throughout the entire play/movie, he is made out to be a total sleaze for treating her badly and sleeping with two (possibly more) women at the same time. However, Lorrell is shown in a strictly sympathetic light, despite the fact that she's knowingly and willfully engaging in a long-term affair with a married man.
  • 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.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Curtis faked a whole relationship with Effie just to get close to Deena.
  • 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.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: "Ain't No Party" is a big long one for Lorrell against Jimmy, for refusing to leave his wife and stringing her along for 7 years.
    Lorrell: Seven Years, and it don't take a smartie,
    To realize that even though my man, throws confetti in my face
    Still it Don't make it no party!
    This Ain't No Party!!!