Dreamgirls: Old/New Music

Despite the enormous effect the original Broadway production had on writer-director Condon, for the film, he wanted to both honor the R&B sound of the 60s and 70s, while infusing the music itself with contemporary flavor.

Drama as Catalyst for Music

Bill utilizes the drama of the piece as a catalyst for the music and singing, says Jamie Foxx. Theres a reason to it all, because the emotional truth of the piece takes you in that direction. Right after Its All Over, BOOM, youre hit with Effies And I Am Telling You. Its not just singing for singings sake. Its storytelling at its most raw and emotional.

Book Songs

In the film, as in the play before it, there are book songs and performance numbers. Though performances may often express commentary on story points or the emotions of the characters, book songs move the story forward. Music is ingrained in the characters souls and is a powerful mode of expression for all of them. The characters in this story relate to and through music, says Condon. Producer Mark says, Because of the nature of the story, almost every number is sung either in performance or on or near a stage.

Though Condon already had a trove of powerful songs to utilize, he nonetheless sought to create new songs for the film. He turned to Henry Krieger, who wrote the original music for the Broadway musical (which yielded him a Tony nomination for Best Score and a Grammy Award for Best Broadway album).

Four New Songs

Krieger collaborated on four new songs for the Dreamgirls soundtrack:

Love You I Do Effies breezy love song to Curtis (performed by Jennifer Hudson);

Listen a passionate song sung by Deena, who transforms from Curtiss product into an independent woman as she sings it (performed by Beyonce Knowles);

Patience a song C.C. writes for James Thunder Early to signal his budding awareness of social change, (performed by Eddie Murphy, Keith Robinson and Anika Noni Rose); and

Perfect World an upbeat confection from Teddy Campbell, a child musical sensation rising alongside The Dreams.

Twenty-five years later, I’m getting to relive the dream, says Krieger. The show has been very faithfully kept intact and yet given its own vibration, for which I give all credit to Bill Condon’s amazing screenwriting and direction, along with the collaborators who worked with the orchestrations from the original show by Harold Wheeler. It all comes out as being very organic to the piece. I love it.

Krieger co-wrote Listen with Knowles and other talented lyricists. The song expresses for the first time Deenas inner journey. Its an actors dream to have a moment in a movie like that to have a song like that to act, says Knowles. It says everything that Deena needs to say, words and emotions that any woman can relate to. It was amazing working with Henry20 years after the original, to still write something so wonderful is incredible. I hope 20 years from now, I can still write songs like Listen.

Faithful to the Original Score

Condon brought in music supervisors Randy Spendlove & Matt Sullivan, along with cutting edge R&B producers The Underdogs (aka Harvey Mason, Jr. and Damon Thomas). Says Sullivan, We stayed faithful to the original score as much as we could while updating it. Every note that Henry took down in that score was for a reason. Every chord strikes an emotion, and he knows what that emotion is. Musically, we tried to stay true to his original intent.

This unique group of collaborators spans various industries, movements and sounds, but all came together to aid Condon and the cast in creating the films unique sound. They worked with the cast for roughly four weeks of rehearsal, which was followed by four weeks of pre-recording the entire musical. During this time all saw firsthand the profound gifts of the films performers. Matt Sullivan notes, Eddie Murphy came in as Eddie, and you could just watch him go right into James Thunder Early, right in front of your face. Pow! And this voice would come out, which was not Eddie Murphy, but this great character that he had developed.

Actors as Singers

Hearing Beyonc bring Deena Jones to life was just as amazing, continues the music supervisor. Its not Beyonc, but Deena, whose voice is not nearly as strong. She pulled back effortlessly as part of her work on the character. And Jamie is such an amazing actor with an amazing voice. The tone and feeling in his voicethat cant be faked. He brought it all into the song and blew us away within five minutes.

Krieger notes that the film offers different interpretations of the original material as performed and recorded more than two decades ago, including the emotional show-stopper that brought the house down, And I Am Telling You. Jennifer Holliday and Jennifer Hudson bring very different things to And I Am Telling You, comments Krieger. What Ms. Hudson does in a very vulnerable way isnt what Ms. Holliday did, and what Ms. Holliday can do in a huge, brassy way is not necessarily the same quiver of arrows that Ms. Hudson uses. Yet both bring wonderful qualities to this property. Each castthe Broadway and the filmbring their own artistry to the material, and both are valid in their versions.

To meet the man who wrote all of these songs that live so deep inside of peoples hearts was incredible for me, comments Hudson. It was coming in contact with history. He was sitting there, telling the story about playing the piano for Jennifer Holliday and were working on the song. You cant put a price on that.

To bring a breath of contemporary movement to the trademark moves of the era depicted in Dreamgirls, Condon needed a choreographer who would not be too firmly grounded in one style but could move and blend freely. We talked to Broadway choreographers and classical choreographers, looking for someone who could reference the period and the original production, but also make it contemporary, Condon recalls. The trick of the movie is that while everything is done in a period style, we want it to feel of the moment.

Dance Numbers

Fatima Robinson, who emerged from the world of hip hop, has choreographed for such acts as Outkast, Black Eyed Peas, Will Smith, Jessica Simpson, No Doubt and Prince. Her spectacular work walks a fine line between staying true to the period and making the movement pop for today, says Condon. Fatima incorporates several influences into the dance numbers Gospel, Jazz, Blues, Rock, says producer Mark. She has pulled out all the dance stops.

Robinson choreographed Curtiss song, Steppin to the Bad Side, for her audition, outfitting her dancers with tambourines and church fans. Henry said that when he saw my presentation, he felt that finally someone got the Gospel in the song that no one had ever really picked up on before, Robinson notes.

One Night Only

I loved the choreography for One Night Only, comments Beyonc Knowles. It was so fun. It felt like something they would have been doing at Studio 54. I still have glitter in my house from that number! Knowles, who once worked with Robinson as a teenager, notes that the choreographer is always doing something new. Shes very knowledgeable about the 60s and 70swe watched a lot of old Motown performances, which was helpful. And Fatima was great at making each dance number distinctive and different, which had to be difficult.

Robinson investigated dance footage and tapes of performers such as Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke and James Brown, and incorporated some of the vintage steps fused with her own modern choreography, to put a little extra flavor on it, keeping it still true to the time but also making it timeless, she describes.

Eddie Murphy came to the table with his own array of moves gleaned from watching hours of performances of the men who, like James Thunder Early, brought a degree of sexuality to the vanilla 50s and 60s. We shot some footage of Eddie, and then worked on certain things that he could do along with the girls, Robinson describes, moves they could do together, and built on that.

The performers in Dreamgirls brought every ounce of their passion to the fore as they shot the sequences in which they performed these memorable songs. Though the powerful pre-recorded vocal tracks were played back at full volume during filming, every live singing voice could still clearly be heard over the playback blaring from the onstage monitors. There isnt a person young or old who doesnt connect in some way to this music, says Spendlove..