Bringing very successful Broadway musicals to the big screen is notoriously difficult. It is often easy to lose the power and intimacy created on a stage when a story is magnified to fit the bigger than life proportions of a Hollywood film.
Director Bill Condon (Kinsey) also wrote the Dreamgirls screenplay (he won an Oscar back in 2004 for penning Chicago), which was based on the book by Tom Eyen. Dreamgirls, the thinly veiled story of Motown and its most successful girl group, The Supremes, was a smash hit when it debuted on Broadway in 1981. For twenty-five years some of Hollywood’s biggest players, including David Geffen, tried to get a film version made but weren’t able to see it through.
Bill Condon was an excellent choice to helm such a complex story. Dreamgirls is the story of three African-American girls from Detroit with dreams of being singing stars in the early to mid-sixties. As the film opens, the three girls, Deena (Beyoncé Knowles), Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose), and Effie (Jennifer Hudson), known as the Dreamettes, intend to win a talent show using a routine cooked up by Effie’s brother C.C. (Keith Robinson) in hopes of a big break. Unbeknownst to them, the show is rigged against them. After the show a Cadillac salesman named Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx) who yearns to be a music industry insider realizes that the Dreamettes would be a perfect backup group for R&B star James “Thunder” Early (Eddie Murphy). Suddenly everyone’s dreams are falling into place.
Set throughout the turbulent sixties and early seventies, it quickly becomes clear that talent isn’t all it takes to become a star. Payola must be used to get the Dreamettes' records on the radio and most cruelly of all, Effie, the girl with the gigantic voice, is moved to back-up singer in favor of the visually stunning Deena.
The casting of Dreamgirls is simply superb. Beyoncé Knowles plays Deena with the burning ambition that Deena obviously has to succeed but she also gives her a sense of frustration that crackles below the surface through much of the film, blazing forth as she sings the song “Listen.” It is then that we are sure that she has found her own voice and the confidence to break away from Curtis Taylor Jr.