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Dreamgirls: A Review
In a Dazzling Adaptation, Jennifer Hudson Rockets to Fame

**WARNING SPOILERS**

Last night I had the opportunity to see one of the first screenings of Dreamgirls, the Bill Condon film adaptation of the Broadway musical, and Condon has pulled off an inspiring and transcendent new classic. The musical production comes alive in its cinematic form so fluidly that at times you almost forget you're not watching a live production. I can't remember the last time I saw an audience provide such physical and vocal responses to onscreen performances. It's a great feeling to come to a film with high expectations and have them exceeded as that's so often not the case.

Dreamgirls1_1You might think that with star power like Beyoncé, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, and Danny Glover that the jockeying for the spotlight would be intense, but there is really no competition here. This is Jennifer Hudson's movie and she is astonishing.

Dreamgirls will make Jennifer Hudson a superstar. Her vocal performances are epic. No less than four times did the audience erupt into spontaneous ovations as she finished her numbers.

The pivotal scene on which the plot of the movie spins, when Effie is told that she's been forced out of the Dreamettes, is delivered in a dazzling musical one-two punch. As the number "It's All Over," a tour-de-force in its deft boxing match-like staging between Curtis Taylor, Jr. (Foxx), Deena Jones (Beyoncé Knowles), Lorrell Robinson (Anika Noni Rose), and Effie (Hudson) winds up we are left with Effie realizing, defiantly, that she's having her dream snatched from her. The movie takes a beautifully-choreographed deep breath before Hudson slides into her solitary and powerful rendition of "And I'm Telling You". This is the moment in the film everyone will be talking about. Hudson's chill-inducing performance made every hair on my scalp stand on end.

Dg2As an audience member there's no way to avoid looking at Hudson's performance against Beyoncé's, or to avoid noticing the way in which the show's plot mirrors the offscreen trajectory of these singers. At one point, Taylor points out to Deena Jones that she's being put up as lead singer because her voice is bland and has no character. Effie is the one with the voice, but she's being relegated to the back row because she is the 'ugly duckling'.

And you root for Hudson because of this. She does not have Beyoncé's model looks (which undergo their own stunning metamorphosis during the film) or her figure, and the filmmakers make no attempt to hide Hudson's heft in the film. But the differences only make you root for Effie even more. Hudson owns this film. It is all hers, and it is beautiful to watch, at the same time realizing that Hudson's real-life story (from American Idol contestant to what should and will be an Oscar-nominated star vehicle) bears an uncanny resemblance to the one unfolding before you.

Jenniferhudson_2Make no mistake. Beyoncé turns in a rock-solid performance which in a world without Hudson would garner acclaim. "Listen," one of the new and welcome additions to the show's set of stand-out tracks, wakes you up to the fact that there is another great singer in this movie, but in the end it's like holding a candle to Hudson, who has shot into Hollywood like a brilliant comet.

Fortunately for Sharon Leal and Anika Noni Rose (the other two members of the Dreams), the strength of the other singers offers them some deserved coattails to ride into the public's awareness, but they're essentially bit players here. Jamie Foxx gives a polished performance as the show's villain, but the return of Eddie Murphy makes it difficult for him to get in the spotlight. Murphy is as entertaining as ever as James 'Thunder' Early, the womanizing soul singer who offers the Dreamettes their first opportunity. Keith Robinson, as Effie's brother CC White, delivers a standout performance as well.

The wardrobe and sets in Dreamgirls bring back the slick, glistening environments of the late 60's and early 70's, and in the production is an obvious love for the glitz and excitement of live performance. This is not Evita whose characters were given little or no chance to breathe between numbers. And it is more three-dimensional and ebullient than Chicago. Dreamgirls is on its way to the Oscars.

Related
Dreamgirls Underway [tr]
Dreamgirls: A Featurette [tr]

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Comments

  1. You are an idiot - Anika Noni Rose is a TONY Award winning actress - she is not riding on anyone's coat tails. Trust, the girl can sing!

    Posted by: creo | Nov 16, 2006 9:52:00 AM


  2. I want to see this right now!

    Posted by: David | Nov 16, 2006 9:53:37 AM


  3. She can definitely sing Creo, but I'd argue she's not that familiar to anyone without a Broadway vocabulary. Thanks for the kind personal message too.

    Posted by: andy | Nov 16, 2006 9:56:37 AM


  4. Cannot wait. As gay men, this one is in our DNA. Although Jennifer Holiday was reduced to a characature by the end of Dreamgirls' run on Broadway, I believe that Jennifer Hudson will likely be captured in her ascendant prime. Her dazzling set of pipes and triumphant backstory only make her likely star status all the more deserved. The trailer alone sends anticipatory shivers up my spine. O.K., I'm ten years old again and hearing The Supremes on my new transitor radio. What a glorious present for the holidays.

    Posted by: rudy | Nov 16, 2006 10:03:54 AM


  5. Andy, I can't tell. Did you like it?

    :-)

    Posted by: Joe | Nov 16, 2006 10:11:28 AM


  6. I agree with your review. I also went to a screening last night and Hudson stole the show. Hands down. If she's not nominated then I officially quit the Oscars.

    The onyl thing I didn't like was that I wnated more scenes for Anika noni rose because she was also incredible in her scenes. They shol dhave kept "Ain't No Party" but then she would really compete with Jennifer for Best Supporting because she was wonderful.

    Posted by: GO | Nov 16, 2006 10:15:03 AM


  7. I saw the movie last night as well and was underwhelmed. To me, Jennifer Hudson's performance, and the overall movie, seemed one-note and rather flat. As someone who loves this musical, I was disappointed. With that being said, I did enjoy watching Eddie Murphy and Anika Noni Rose. They are two professionals at the top of their game.

    Posted by: Matt | Nov 16, 2006 10:16:46 AM


  8. Take that Fantasia and Diana!!

    Posted by: gabe | Nov 16, 2006 10:16:55 AM


  9. You said "It's All Over" is a "new number." Am I mis-reading that? The number has definitely always been in the show. The only thing new in the movie is that Jimmy was in the scene in the stage version and not in the film (they gave his lines to Deena and cut one line that I can think of off the top of my head.)

    You can see the song (and "And I am Telling You...") by the original cast on youtube. It's from the Tony awards in 82 and Jennifer Holliday brings the house down.

    Posted by: John | Nov 16, 2006 10:22:18 AM


  10. Hi John, Yes you read that right, but I misspoke - I meant to say that "Listen" was the new number. Thanks for the edit.

    Posted by: andy | Nov 16, 2006 10:27:47 AM


  11. Andy: thanks for this insightful review. I saw Jennifer Holiday on Broadway and was 'blown away' by her big number 'And I'm Telling You' that closed the first part of the show...spine tingling then. I am soooooo looking forward to seeing this movie version and your review has only heightened my anticipation. Incidentally I did like your very cool reply to CREO. Thanks also for this blog. I start my day with a coffee and Towelroad.

    Posted by: juan hugo | Nov 16, 2006 10:43:05 AM


  12. I got a tingle just reading your review.

    Posted by: Ted | Nov 16, 2006 10:48:55 AM


  13. " Anika Noni Rose is a TONY Award winning actress - she is not riding on anyone's coat tails. Trust, the girl can sing!"

    I don't think it has anything to do with Anika's skills....unfortunately it's just the part she played.

    But every article that I've read, or people that I know that has viewed this movie says that it is a 'must see'.

    Posted by: Stella | Nov 16, 2006 10:51:11 AM


  14. You GO Boy... I read only enough to find out you loved it... I'm trying to be as virgin as possible until I see the film... saw the original Broadway show in the 1980's and various revivals... absolutely adore it. Can't wait for the remastered original soundtrack next week--with three additional songs. I laughed when you wrote about audience providing physical and vocal responses... (have you ever been to the movies with my black people?) I love it when the audience let's you know... Thanks, Andy!

    Posted by: CaliNexus | Nov 16, 2006 10:53:30 AM


  15. I saw it last night, too and can't stop thinking about it. I've been listening to the soundtrack since I was a little gay boy but have never seen a stage production. Bill Condon exceeded my expectations. J.Hud gives the most electrifying performance in a musical since Liza in Cabaret. From the moment she appeared on screen, she WAS Effie and the audience (full of gay theater queens, judging from the applause when the musical intros began) were on her side rooting for her and she didn't disappoint. I can't wait to see it again.

    Posted by: Jeremy | Nov 16, 2006 11:07:26 AM


  16. P.S. Would someone please beat Creo with a stick.

    Posted by: CaliNexus | Nov 16, 2006 11:12:25 AM


  17. And I'm telling you... J-Hud will be nominated since that's the buzz going around Hollywood (for the past few months - she's the only shoo-in).

    Posted by: Steven. | Nov 16, 2006 11:22:22 AM


  18. I can't tell from your review if this movie is filmed with the same quick cuts and short takes that gave me a headache during Chicago and ruined it for me.
    Sine Condon merely wrote, but did not direct, Chicago, I am not sure what to expect.
    Dreamgirls was great on stage, and yet I am not so excited about this movie because of my fears. Please elaborate. Thanks.

    Posted by: Arnie H. | Nov 16, 2006 11:33:41 AM


  19. "Dreamgirls" is not part of "our" DNA. And musicals are not "gay". It's fags like you that not only encourage stereotyping of yourself and your community, but also discourage straight men who could very well LOVE LOVE LOVE musicals but play it down or keep it in the closet because of the stigma it carries to their hetero friends- a stigma you are promoting. Oh, he's a guy and he loves musicals- he must be gay. We have to quit it with this already because it's B.S.

    Posted by: Patrick | Nov 16, 2006 12:03:05 PM


  20. Patrick darlin' you are an idiot. I can love musicals and beat the shit out of your brain-dead hide. Both are part of any self-respecting gay man's DNA. The vast majority of us are multi-talented and conversant in many artforms, including witty conversation. Too bad you missed that strand. Just what the community needs, a defender of straight men too nelly to admit they like musicals. Baby, you live in a sad, sad world.

    Posted by: rudy | Nov 16, 2006 12:10:57 PM


  21. Patrick, you are the one with the problem here. Your post reads very defensive, and why you would bash another "fag", as you put it, and try to make us act like everyone else so the straight people will "LOVE LOVE LOVE" the theater (your phrase is about as gay as it gets my friend) is beyond me.

    Posted by: Wayne | Nov 16, 2006 12:15:33 PM


  22. I saw it last night too and was impressed. I was aware of the story line but had never seen the musical. Jennifer was really incredible as was Beyonce. The part where Deana makes her first appearance as lead is stunning - you can see Beyonce's star power unfold before your eyes. She goes from set dressing to star in moments. Jennifer IS Effie and has earned the acclaim she is receiving.

    Posted by: Tropico | Nov 16, 2006 12:28:17 PM


  23. Rudy's defining of gayness is off mark and only encourages sterotypes... To say that that the vast majority of gay people are "multi-talented and conversant in many artforms, including witty conversation" is untrue...

    Posted by: Patrick | Nov 16, 2006 12:32:12 PM


  24. Aieeeeeeee!

    I love you for this review... but I HATE ALL OF YOU who got to see it already! :)

    I say it with love.

    Oh my God I have to go get tickets. In case anyone hasn't seen the New York Post this morning - the movie will play for 10 days in NY and LA starting Dec 15th - tix are $25, one show a day. Yes, $25. And I'm going for it.

    And Patrick, it's okay for gay boys to like musicals, really... and straight boys, too. And for those of us who do, it really is in our DNA.

    Posted by: weboy | Nov 16, 2006 12:34:47 PM


  25. Well, in Patrick's defense (sort of)...musical theater is not part of this gay man's DNA (though my boyfriend most definitely has that DNA strand). It does't mean much to me, but I hope you all enjoy the show.

    Posted by: jon luddite | Nov 16, 2006 12:36:33 PM


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