Souvenir Program          i




Can anyone tell us why Dreamgirls grossed only $104 million during its U.S. theatrical run? Even foreign ticket sales drooped to levels far below expectations—at about $52 million. With box office stars like Eddie Murphy and Jamie Foxx, with international pop diva Beyoncé, and with an acclaimed golden girl performance by Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls had so much going for it that there’s a lingering, nagging feeling that something or someone is to blame for its lack of blockbuster status. Would love to say it’s Simon Cowell’s fault: so much nonsense has been paid to him that many otherwise receptive moviegoers stayed away because they couldn’t bear any further association of his egotism with what he did to poor fat Jennifer. Had Eddie Murphy been terrible as a tri-bination of Jackie Wilson, James Brown and Marvin Gaye, it would be convenient to charge him, but he’s actually quite good. Or fault Foxx for an early bad flapper-like wavy hairdo that’s difficult to get past. We could cast a judgmental eye on Beyoncé, who seems to be the sweetest thing going (until we learn that in real life she’s a super bitch) but, between Diana gesturing, she’s not yet anywhere near adequacy as actress; at times she looks like a doe caught frozen in the headlights. And it doesn’t help her much that the movie’s fashion photo spread is lifted from Mahogany. Given the outsized celebration of Hudson, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to suggest we didn’t need to see her in Dreamgirls because she had been on the box every day for months, if not on “Entertainment Tonight,” “The Insider,” “Inside Edition,” then on all the morning talk shows, and, of course, on Oprah and Barbara Walters. To say nothing of the celeb mags and tabs. Overexposure can cause undesirable effects. Are we closet racists who didn’t want to spend the money on what is a rags-to-riches black drag show? Doubt it, because its DVD sales and rentals were initially spectacular—over $30 million the first week of release. (Honkies also keep Motown’s oldies-but-goodies business humming.) There were the incessant drumbeats of Oscar predictions, the nominations (or the lack of them) and all that anticipated comeuppance for Simon when Hudson would earn an Oscar. Then, with timing everything, came the demise of Anna Nicole. When that trash culture metaphor fittingly arrivedercied, it really was more entertaining to watch the box and get caught up in all the juicy speculation than to haul ass to the theatre. But back to the movie: with irony, it ends up that Hudson eventually gets the lion’s share of culpability for the troubling box office deficiency. There is an unfriendliness about her Effie, one of the Dreams, and as she sings there’s an anger than gets insufferably deeper as the movie reaches conclusion. The resentment Effie feels is meant to reflect resentments felt by real Supremes Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson over the actions of pompous Diana Ross and Motown producer Barry Gordy, yet Hudson’s ever-less friendly belting is displacing, jarring us out of any warmth or sympathy we want to feel for her. (She’s less the pretty parts of Diahann Carroll and more Aretha Franklin’s displeasing fleshiness; though “One Night Only” is a plot pivot, we’re very grateful she isn’t shaking her booty in the disco version.) As imposing and stirring as she is, her singing becomes too much of the same refrain; she’s trapped by the character’s boring profundo pop soul bitching—she becomes a screeching Leontyne Price doing arias from the ’hood. This lack of empathetic response is no surprise: director Bill Condon, who wrote the adaptation of Chicago for the screen, has a penchant for skimming over emotions that hook audiences. Central to Hudson’s overharping, he’s also at the center of the musical’s lack of eyeball appeal. Just where did he spend a budget of $70,000,000? Certainly not on the sets, or the costumes which are major disappointments, stingy with the flash of sequins. How can a director miss the chance to give Beyoncé the wardrobe of a lifetime? And there should be a public execution for the designer who put that white gown on Hudson, making her look like a pregnant whale, a sight causing considerable delay in audience recovery. Despite the sags and blimps, Dreamgirls manages to keep us engaged because we don’t wait long for the next number. It’s clear why theatre audiences broke out in applause after the showstoppers—there’s nothing much of interest happening between them.

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Text COPYRIGHT © 2007 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.