Saturday, December 16, 2006

They're Making Your Dreams Come True

Let me begin with a full disclosure: I saw Michael Bennett's "Dreamgirls" on stage no less than 6 times. One of those times was on psychedelic mushrooms. I. Love. That. Production. So, with that prejudice, I EAGERLY shelled up the $25 for the San Francisco 'roadshow screening' of...

"Dreamgirls" (dir. Bill Condon, US, 2006, 131 mins.). Director Bill Condon obviously holds the original stage production in as high regard, if not nearly mythological awe, that those of us who were privileged enough to see it also do. He has maintained the awesome transitions that were 'magic' on stage (i.e. "Changing") and choreographer Fatima Robinson has recreated some of the trademark movement that Michael Bennett gave 'The Dreams'. Condon's screenplay adaptation is fiercely faithful to Tom Eyen's original book. You can almost feel the regret of some of the cutting of recitative, as the lyrics remain intact and are spoken. The few additional songs and scenes are seamlessly woven in, with one exception which is Deena's (Beyonce' Knowles) new showstopper, "Listen". It is a moment that belies the fact of Deena's less than stellar talent. However, emotionally it rings true within the story and is delivered by Beyonce' with star-studded gusto.

Condon did a superb casting job. Beyonce' Knowles has the almost unfortunate duty of performing 'Deena'. It is a very tricky role. 'Deena' has the largest character arc of all, however it is dramatically shadowed by the pyrotechnics of the rest of the characters surrounding her. Hers is the story of a surprising, yet steady climb to super stardom. On paper and on stage (I can't help referring to the comparison), 'Deena' is nearly omnipresent with the rest of the ensemble. However, as the character is cinematically edited, her presence is diminished, and the arc becomes nearly a fashion show. Beyonce' is gorgeous and stunning in some of the set pieces. However, I believe she may have been intimidated by the extreme fashion sense that is thrust upon the character to have maintained an emotional thru-line. Surprisingly, though, the role of 'Lorrell' as performed by Tony Winner Anika Noni Rose ("Caroline... or Change"), makes a similar transition with more success. It would have been interesting to see Anika Noni Rose play 'Deena', though the photogenic requirements might prohibit that on screen. Keith Robinson as 'C.C. White' is charming and appealing enough, though sadly some of his best music was cut.Jamie Foxx as the Faustian manager 'Curtis Taylor Jr.' handles his job with unobjectionable aplomb. However, he has ENORMOUS on-screen competition.

Jennifer Hudson claims the role of 'Effie' as her own. She manages one of the biggest numbers in musical theater, "I'm Telling You, I'm Not Going", without calling upon the ghost of Jennifer Holliday, whose rendition can be considered 'definitive.' Hudson attacks the role with a freshness and dramatic naivete' that being too young to have witnessed the original offers her. Hudson's 'Effie' is more than a diva, but a woman who lives with a single gift and does everything she can to protect it. Condon staged THE BIG NUMBER with a dramatic arc all its own. Hudson, perhaps without knowing it, channels within "I'm Telling You..." the great divas of the stage: it becomes Mama Rose's "Rose's Turn" in its ferocity. It is a stunning moment to watch her work that song and with nearly perfect diction, I might add!

Eddie Murphy, as 'James 'Thunder' Early', is the other scene stealing show stopper of the film. The role offers some huge moments for an entertainer with the stage and screen presence of Murphy. However, it is a dark and quiet single moment in the second act in which he NAILS the character! His aging transition is completely believable and the breakdown in Act Two is performed with an emotional logic that I have never understood until now.

Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy are assured Award nominations and most likely, wins in the Supporting Categories.

Condon hedged his casting bets even further by hiring some real pros in the smaller ensemble roles, including Danny Glover, Hinton Battle, Sharon Leal, Bobby Slayton, and even Loretta Devine, who appeared in the original stage production.

The costuming is, as required, pretty freakin' awesome! The clothes work almost like intertitles, giving us nearly specific years as time passes. I would hazard to guess that there were 1,000's of pieces created for the principals and extras. It is nearly overwhelming. In fact, during 'Deena's' photo shoot, the sequence came PERILOUSLY CLOSE to the 'Gillian Girl Sequence' from "The Valley of the Dolls". It was a hair's breadth away from crossing that line. It could have been a single edit that saved that sequence from nose diving the entire production into "Valley of the Dolls" camp. Condon, or at least editor Virginia Katz, was very fortunate to have pulled off that sequence. The makeup and wigging do not come off as well, I'm afraid.

The cinematography by Tobias A. Schliessler, theatrical lighting by Peggy Eisenhauer and Jules Fisher (the original lighting designers on Broadway) and production design and art direction by John Myhre and Tomas Voth all perfectly suit and enable the transition of period and success that surrounds the ensemble. Some of the production numbers are incredible to watch, without being overwhelming and distracting.

This being the 'roadshow screening', it attracted the truly devoted, i.e. ME! It was a sold out crowd at 10 p.m. The audience was almost frighteningly hyped as the film began, but then became so absorbed into it, that the screaming and hooting I feared would accompany the screening was replaced with appropriate and enthusiastic applause after THE BIG MOMENTS. As part of the 'roadshow', we were given a souvenir program, a limited edition litho of the poster and the entrance to the screening room had displays of a few of the costume pieces. Oh, and there is a nearly obnoxious t-shirt/poster/cd stall outside the door.


Maxxxxx said...

re "Dreamgirls": "Wooooo! Such a pretty bird! Doobie doobie dooo-ooo!"

JimmyD said...

It was freakin' amazing! Thanks dor taking me! I agree with everything you said except for:

"The makeup and wigging do not come off as well, I'm afraid."

I still say that black wigs are almost always hard to pull off. Do some hair watching on the street. Many times I see a hairstyle I think is a wig or a fall. I can't tell. Maybe it's because of hair styles that natural (and beautiful, I might add) black hair can't be styled into? I'm not a pro but I'm pretty good in spotting bad wigs. I thought these were pretty awesome.

Paul said...

Hi there, Frank will be so happy to read your report on 'the girls', he is such a fan and cannot wait for the movie!!
I love Max's new photo, If I didn't know better I'd say the 'star of bethlehem' is visiting Max.
Happy Christmas and Merry Chanukkah!

Duchess Maureen said...

We are heading to NYC today and are seeing Dreamgirls at the Ziegfeld on Tuesday! Yahoooooo!

Brian said...

I never saw this onstage (except for a number or two in a revue show put on by high schoolers- which was still good enough to get me intrigued) but I'm still looking forward to seeing this. But not to paying $25 for a ticket. You write: "As part of the 'roadshow', we were given a souvenir program, a limited edition litho of the poster and the entrance to the screening room had displays of a few of the costume pieces." If that's part of the roadshow, what makes up the rest of it? Anything besides the higher price, earlier access, and T-shirt stand? If not, I won't feel I'm missing anything by waiting.

Jay, aka The Angry Little Man said...


Tis true that the only other benefit of the 'roadshow screening' was the absence of trailers and security asking each and every person entering to turn check their cellphones before going inside. There were also production stills lining the hallway. The whole 'trivia' aspect was designed for the DEVOTED, like ME! >:) (Dude, I went to the Broadway production on psychedelics! Toss me a gown in the hallway and watch me spin!!!)

Anonymous said...

Jules and Peggy were not the lighting designers for the OB production of Dreamgirls. Tharon Musser did the lighting and won a Tony.

Plus, I think Eddie Murphy is only ok and think Condon made a few bad staging choices. I also think you might not have understood the Jimmy Early arc when you were younger because it takes a bit of age and perspective to feel a connection to his frustration and desperation.

More. We will talk more.