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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. 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.


"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.
  • Alternate History: In the stage musical, the Dreams are almost as popular as The Supremes. 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).
  • 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 is centered around the things he has.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Catchphrase: 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.
  • 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: 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: 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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 Magnolia 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.
  • 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".
  • Narcissist: Effie shows traits of this, such as thinking that everything should always go her way just because she has a good voice. She does grow out of it later in the film.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 in a room, and Michelle, Lorrell, and CC leave the room.
  • Seven Deadly Sins:
    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
    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.
  • Shrinking Violet: Lorrell, until she becomes sick of Jimmy's crap.
  • 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".
  • Stylistic Suck: The "whitened up" version of "Cadillac Car."
  • 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)" has Effie move up from the background, to lead vocals.
  • Truck Driver's Gear Change: A few songs, including "I Am Changing".
  • 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.
  • 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.


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