Dreamgirls is a Broadway musical, with music by Henry Krieger and lyrics and book by Tom Eyen. Based on the show business aspirations and successes of R&B acts such as The Supremes, The Shirelles, James Brown, Jackie Wilson, and others. The musical follows the story of a young female singing trio from Chicago, Illinois called “The Dreams”, who become music superstars.
The musical opened on December 20, 1981, at the Imperial Theatre on Broadway. The musical was then nominated for 13 Tony Awards, including the Tony Award for Best Musical, and won six. It was later adapted into a motion picture from DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures in 2006. The film starred Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson, Danny Glover, Anika Noni Rose, and Keith Robinson.
Act I: 1960s
In 1962, The Dreamettes, a hopeful black girl group from Chicago, enter the famous Amateur Night talent competition at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York (“I’m Lookin’ for Something”, “Goin’ Downtown”, “Takin’ the Long Way Home”). The group is composed of full-figured lead singer Effie White and best friends, Deena Jones and Lorrell Robinson. For the contest, the Dreamettes sing “Move (You’re Steppin’ on My Heart)”, a song written by Effie’s brother, C.C., who accompanies them to the talent show. Unfortunately, they lose the talent show, but backstage, the girls and C.C. meet Curtis Taylor, Jr., a car salesman who becomes the Dreamettes’ manager.
Curtis convinces James “Thunder” Early, a popular R&B star, and his manager, Marty, to hire The Dreamettes as backup singers. Though Jimmy Early and the Dreamettes’ first performance together is successful (“Fake Your Way to the Top”), Jimmy is desperate for new material. Curtis convinces Jimmy and Marty that they should venture beyond traditional rhythm and blues and soul audiences and aim for the pop market. C.C. composes “Cadillac Car” for Jimmy and the Dreamettes, who tour (“Cadillac Car (On the Road)”) and record the single upon their return (“Cadillac Car (In the Recording Studio)”). “Cadillac Car” makes its way up the pop charts, but a cover version by white pop singers Dave and the Sweethearts (“Cadillac Car” (Reprise)) steals the original recording’s thunder. Angered by “Cadillac Car’s” usurpation, Curtis, C.C., and Jimmy’s producer, Wayne, resort to payola, bribing disc jockeys across the nation to play Jimmy Early and the Dreamettes’ next single, “Steppin’ to the Bad Side”. As a result, the record becomes a major pop hit. Conflict arises between Marty and Curtis when Curtis moves in on Marty’s turf: Jimmy Early. Things become more complicated when Effie begins dating Curtis, and Jimmy, a married man, begins an affair with Lorrell (“Party, Party”).
Curtis replaces him, strongly determined to make his black singers household names. Curtis attempts to transform Jimmy Early into a Perry Como-esque pop singer (“I Want You Baby”), and concentrates on establishing the Dreamettes as their own act, renaming them The Dreams, changing their act to give them a more sophisticated and pop-friendly look and sound. The most crucial of these changes is the establishment of Deena as lead singer, instead of Effie. Effie is resentful of her change in status within the group. C.C. convinces her to go along with Curtis’s plan (“Family”). After a fight between Marty and Curtis, Marty quits as Jimmy’s manager and Curtis takes over. The Dreams make their club debut in the Crystal Room in Cleveland, Ohio, singing their first single (“Dreamgirls”). After a triumphant show, the press is eager to meet the newly minted stars (“Press Conference”). Curtis declares to Deena, “I’m going to make you the most famous woman who’s ever lived,” as the slighted Effie asks “What about me?” (“Only the Beginning”). Over the next few years, the Dreams become a mainstream success with hit singles (“Heavy”). As Deena is increasingly feted as a star, Effie becomes temperamental and unpredictable. She suspects Curtis and Deena of having an affair. Lorrell attempts to keep peace between her bandmates, but the task seems difficult.
In 1967, the group – now known as “Deena Jones and the Dreams” – is set to make their Las Vegas début. However, when Jimmy stops by to visit the girls (“Drivin’ Down the Strip”), he learns from the others that Effie has been missing shows because of illness (it is later revealed that she was pregnant with Curtis’s child). Curtis and Deena are convinced that she is trying to sabotage the act. Curtis replaces Effie with a new singer, Michelle Morris, a change about which Effie learns before anyone has a chance to tell her. Effie confronts Curtis, C.C., and the group (“It’s All Over”), but despite her personal appeal to Curtis (“And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”), the heartbroken Effie is left behind as Deena Jones and the Dreams forge ahead without her (“Love Love Me Baby”).
Act II: 1970s
By 1972, Deena Jones and the Dreams have become the most successful girl group in the country (“Act II Opening”1). Deena has married Curtis, and C.C. is in love with Michelle. Jimmy has gone years without a hit. Curtis shows little interest in updating or revitalizing Jimmy’s act because of Curtis’s preoccupation with Deena and because of Jimmy’s habit of sneaking funk numbers into his repertoire of pop-friendly songs. Effie is back in Chicago, a single mother to her daughter, Magic (or Ronald in other versions), struggling to get another break. Marty, who is now her manager, compels her to rebuild her confidence and give up her “diva behaviors.” Once she does, Effie is able to make a show business comeback (“I Am Changing”). In contrast to Effie’s struggling return to her musical career, Deena wants to stop singing and become an actress. Deena informs Curtis of her career plans during a Vogue photo shoot (“One More Picture Please”), but Curtis refuses to let her go (“When I First Saw You”). Deena is not the only one chafing under Curtis’s control: C.C. is enraged by Curtis’s constant rearrangements of his songs, including an emotional ballad, entitled “One Night Only”, which Curtis wants instead recorded to reflect the “new sound” he is inventing.
Deena Jones and the Dreams and Jimmy Early perform at a National Democratic fundraiser, on a bill featuring such groups as The Five Tuxedos (“Got to Be Good Times”). While waiting backstage to go on, Jimmy finds himself in another argument with Lorrell as to the nature of their relationship and when, or if, Jimmy will tell his wife about their affair (“Ain’t No Party”). Lorrell is in tears as Jimmy takes to the stage to perform, and turns to Deena for support. As Jimmy pleads to Lorrell through his music (“I Meant You No Harm”), Deena tries to help Lorrell successfully resolve her situation, and Michelle convinces the artistically frustrated C.C. to go find his sister and reconcile with her (“Quintette”). Midway through “I Meant You No Harm”, Jimmy falls apart and decides that he “can’t sing any more sad songs.” Desperate to keep his set going, Jimmy launches into a wild, improvised funk number (“The Rap”), dropping his pants during the performance. An embarrassed Curtis fires Jimmy as soon as his set concludes. Lorrell ends her affair with Jimmy as well. The heartbroken Jimmy fades into obscurity, refusing to “beg” for Curtis’ help.
Marty arranges for C.C. to meet and reconcile with Effie at a recording studio (“I Miss You, Old Friend”). C.C. apologizes for his role in handicapping her career, and Effie records C.C.’s “One Night Only” in its original ballad format. “One Night Only” begins climbing the charts, causing an enraged Curtis not only to rush-release Deena and the Dreams’ version, but to use massive amounts of payola to push Deena’s version up the charts and Effie’s version down (“One Night Only (Disco)”). Effie, C.C., and Marty discover Curtis’s scheme and confront him backstage at a Dreams concert, threatening legal action (“I’m Somebody”, “Chicago/Faith in Myself”). As Curtis makes arrangements with Effie’s lawyer to reverse his wrongdoings, Effie and Deena reconcile, and Deena learns that Effie’s daughter Magic is Curtis’s child. Realizing what kind of a man Curtis really is, Deena finally finds the courage to leave him and live her own life (“Listen” 2). Effie’s “One Night Only” becomes a number-one hit, as the Dreams break up so that Deena can pursue her movie career (“Hard to Say Goodbye, My Love”). For the final number of the Dreams’ farewell concert, Effie rejoins the group on stage, and all four Dreams sing their signature song one last time (“Dreamgirls (Reprise)”).