Sunday, August 9, 2009

Non Traditional Casting

Before I even begin expressing my opinion about nontraditional casting for Dreamgirls, I felt it was necessary to research the definition of non-traditional casting. 
Here is the definition that i found most informative: 

Non-traditional casting is defined as the casting of ethnic minority and female actors in roles where race, ethnicity, or sex is not germane...Non-traditional casting is actually realistic casting...

I believe that theatre is about expression through the telling of a story. In my opinion it is the job of the director to bring that story to life in a manner that is engaging and most importantly, believable. When a person believes what they are seeing or reading, they are more receptive to listening and hopefully through an engaged audience, the voice of the play's message can be heard. 
Although Dreamgirls has many universal themes, such as the importance of relationships and the whole notion of pursuing one's dream, the story is told through the African American experience. Therefore, the script makes reference to prominent African American establishments (where the majority of people were "African American"), African American lingo and experiences regarding racism toward African Americans in the mid 20th century.  Furthermore, the characters are inspired by real people; prominent African Americans who had flourishing careers in the music industry during the late 50's, and through out the 60's and 70's. 
With all this being said, it would seem (or in my opinion, should seem) out of place to see any  race other than African American, portraying a story that is derived from an African American setting and experience.  Non traditional casting for Dreamgirls, in my opinion, would not be germane, and therefore unrealistic. 
However, I do find it interesting that the producers of the 2009 Broadway Revival of Dreamgirls have produced the musical with an all-Korean cast in Seoul....hmmm, interesting. In this case, I am sure that the theme of this production isn't focused so much on themes of segregation and discrimination based on racism. And as society is pushing forward and becoming more and more socially integrated, maybe it makes sense to see themes that are more relevant to our time, being focused upon. My only question is, "I wonder how much it distorts the historical context of the play, as well as the intent of the playwright?" 

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Program Notes

When I hear the name The Supreme's, The Shirelles or The Vandelles, a million pictures fill my mind. Immediately, my thoughts are submerged in images of glitz and glamour. I see red lipstick, sequined gowns, glitter, high heels and fantastic wigs. A world where perfection and fantasy exist in reality. The images are flawless. On the surface, one might see this extraordinary world in Dreamgirls, the story of an African American girl group that breaks American racial barriers and reaches the pinnacle of success in the music industry.  However, if you dig a little deeper, you find that this story also presents the darker side of fame, success and human nature, as it carries you through the harsh reality of the entertainment industry. 

Most importantly, Dreamgirls is about exploring the dynamic of relationships.  Through out the show we see discrimination, friendship, betrayal and corruption: issues between the characters' that transcend the historical context of the play. At some point or another, we can relate to the situation at hand, and sympathize with the each character regardless of their race, sex or ethnicity. Although the plot centers around African Americans fighting for success and equality in the music industry, this musical is embedded with several universal themes that every human being can relate to: the joy of love and the heartache of loss, losing a best friend, struggling to be heard,  or having a dream and working to make it come true; these are just a few examples. In the end, the most important lesson we learn is the true value of relationships. In having it all, a person can have nothing at all.  As an audience member you leave questioning your values and what is important to you. "How far would you go to achieve your dreams?" "Would it be worth the sacrifice in the end? What are you utlimately reaching for?" 

Moving forward, the setting for Dreamgirls takes place during the turbulent times of the 1960's and 1970's. It was a scary and interesting period of political, social and economic change. One of the highlights of this time was America's changing ideals about race.  Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Malcom X were prominent figures in the African American community who made national headlines demanding equality for African Americans.  Protests, rioting and violence concerning segregation and racial inequality threatened to tear the nation apart. By the time the Civil Rights Movement started picking up momentum and grabbing the attention of political authorities, it was clear that America's racial issues could no longer be ignored; they needed to be resolved, and a change was coming.  Coincidently, the Dreams cross over into mainstream American audiences and climb their way to the top during a period in time when the  racial barriers and walls of segregation that stood, were just waiting to fall. In comparing the past with the present, it is interesting to see how drastically the social structure of America has changed. However, to this day the road to success in any form of enterainment requires hard work and to some degree, still requires the breaking down of political and social barriers. 

America is an amalgamation of different races, cultures, and ethnicities. It is amazing to see how this melting pot of people has developed and impacted America's art history, particularly in music. 
There is no doubt that African American's have contributed tremendously to America's rich musical history. The history of Motown records is deeply reflected in Dreamgirls, and gives a glimpse of the enormous impact it had on African Americans, as well as Caucasian Americans, and the history of music. Furthermore, if it wasn't for the establishment of Motown Records there would be no Dreamgirls story. Motown opened the door for African America voices to be heard by the world. The company birthed and nurtured talent that served as the inspiration for many of the character's and stories in Dreamgirls.  The success of this record company is immeasurable and regarded as a national treasure in America's music history. 
Furthermore, if you pay attention, you will find that the character's in this musical are reflections of some of the most profound African American artists' in music history. They represent people who broke racial barriers, inspired musical legends of the following generations (black and white), and gave America an escape from the issues that threatened to divide the nation, at the time.  Names that immediately come to mind are: James Brown, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Shirelles, The Temptations and Smokey Robinson. Moreover, the characters' in Dreamgirls represent the voices of all the African American singing groups who emerged during the 1950's-1970's and filled America with the rich sounds of R&B, Soul, and Pop music. 
Along following the journey of the Dreams and their rise to stardom you will be entertained by the show's marvelous spectacle, but if you dig a little deeper, you will see that this musical has more to offer than just glitz, glamour and fabulous music.  

Friday, August 7, 2009

Definition: Dream

"an aspiration; goal; aim
a wild or vain fancy.
something of an unreal beauty, charm, or excellence."

Definition: Kaboodle

"take your cat, kit, and kaboodle
take your broken down car, your smelly cigar
and just move, move right out of my life" (lyrics for Move)

"–noun Informal.
the lot, pack, or crowd: I have no use for the whole caboodle.

kit and caboodle"

Meaning of the name: Claridge (C.C. is short for Claridge Conrad White)

from the Middle English, Old French female personal name Clarice (Latin Claritia
meaning ‘fame’, ‘brightness’, a derivative of clarus ‘famous’, ‘bright’).
habitational name from Clearhedge Wood in Sussex, which is probably named with Old English cl?fre ‘clover’ + hrycg ‘ridge’.

Exploitation of African American Music
Happens all the time, baby! Pat Boone had the big hit with Fats'
"Ain't That A Shame" and Elvis covered Big Mama Thornton's "Hound
Dog." That's the way it happens in the world of R&B."(Marty quote)

"In her 2002 article in The Guardian, Helen Kolawole claimed, “Black music never stays underground. White people always seek it out, dilute it and eventually claim it as their own … This is fine, but be honest about it.” But Elvis Presley, in his public statements at least, consistently was “honest” about the debt his style of singing owed to black rhythm and blues."

History of Soul Music

"Style of U.S. popular music sung and performed primarily by African American musicians, having its roots in gospel music, and rhythm and blues. The term was first used in the 1960s to describe music that combined rhythm and blues, gospel, jazz, and rock music and that was characterized by intensity of feeling and earthiness. In its earliest stages, soul music was found most commonly in the South, but many of the young singers who were to popularize it migrated to cities in the North. The founding of Motown in Detroit, Mich., and Stax-Volt in Memphis, Tenn., did much to encourage the style. Its most popular performers include James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, and Aretha Franklin. "

Pop Music

"Pop music is a music genre that developed from the mid-1950s as a softer alternative to rock 'n' roll and later to rock music. It has a focus on commercial recording, often orientated towards a youth market, usually through the medium of relatively short and simple love songs. While these basic elements of the genre have remained fairly constant, pop music has absorbed influences from most other forms of popular music, particularly borrowing from the development of rock music, and utilizing key technological innovations to produce new variations on existing themes."

Rise of Disco

And I'm telling you, our version of "One
Night Only" will revolutionize the music industry. (Curtis quote)

"Style of dance music that arose in the mid-1970s, characterized by hypnotic rhythm, repetitive lyrics, and electronically produced sounds. Disco (short for discotheque) evolved largely from New York City underground nightclubs, in which disc jockeys would play dance records for hours without interruption, taking care to synchronize the beats so as to make a seamless change between records. Artists such as Donna Summer, Chic, and the Bee Gees had many hits in the genre, which peaked with the release of the film Saturday Night Fever (1977). Disco faded quickly after 1980, but its powerful influence, especially its sequenced electronic beats, still continues to affect much of pop music."

Backup vocalists
"Ladies I have the break of your lives! The Great Jimmy Early is in need of some back up help." (Marty quote)

"Working as a backup singer can give a vocalist the onstage experience and vocal training they need to develop into a lead vocalist. A number of lead vocalists such as Richard Marx, Mariah Carey, Cher, Gwen Stefani, Whitney Houston, Phil Collins, and Elton John learned their craft as backup singers."

The Apollo Theatre

The Apollo Theater in New York City is one of the most famous music halls in the United States, and the most famous club associated almost exclusively with African-American performers. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is the home of Showtime at the Apollo, a nationally syndicated variety show consisting of new talent.

"why do we need wigs in the first place?" (Effie quote)

"Before the days of synthetic hair production, wigs were normally made of human or animal hair. Wigs and hairpieces again came in to fashion in the 1960’s, and demand for the product suddenly soared."

Motown Recording Studio

This was a picture taken from an actual recording studio at Motwon Records in the 1960's.

Cadillac Car

Picture of a 1960 Red Cadillac Eldorado Convertible

The Apollo Theatre
Located in Harlem, New York,
this world renowned African American Theatre is legendary for its discovery of some of the most influential African American artists' in American history.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Basic Facts 

Author and Language
Book, Lyrics: Tom Eyen
Music: Henry Krieger
Translation: English 

Play Structure
Act I- 12 Scenes
Act II- 8 Scenes

Cast Breakdown
24 Actors:
4 Female Leads 
4 Male Leads 
16 Ensemble

Running time: N/A

Musical Theatre

Tom Eyen
"Eyen was born in Cambridge, Ohio, the youngest of seven children of Abraham and Julia Eyen, who owned a family-run restaurant. He attended The Ohio State University but left before graduating, in 1960, and moved to New York City to study acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Having no success with acting, Eyen worked briefly as a press agent and then began writing. He found a home for his unique outlook on contemporary life in the 1960s at the off-off-Broadway avant garde theatre scene at Caffe Cino and La MaMa Theatre, where he gave Bette Midler her first professional acting roles in his Miss Nefertiti Regrets and Cinderella Revisited. Eyen is considered a principal proponent of the 1960s neo-expressionist off-off-Broadway movement. The New York Times noted, "His plays are known for emotionally grotesque material combined with sharp satire."

Henry Krieger

"Born in New York City, Krieger grew up in Westchester County, New York and attended school in Scarborough, New York, which had a theatre that was a replica of the Helen Hayes Theatre. He became interested in theatre and the dramatic arts, and he later studied creative and liberal arts at the American Universiyt in Washington, DC and Columbia University in New York. While still in his twenties, Krieger began composing for Off-Off Broadway.  Eyen and Krieger first worked together on the 1975 musical version of Eyen's revue The Dirtiest Show in Town, called The Dirtiest Musical in Town.

In 1983, Krieger's musical The Tap Dance Kid, with lyrics by Robert Lorick, opened at Broadway's Broadhurst Theatre and went on to win two Tony Awards. It would be well over a decade before his next Broadway musical, Side Show, with book and lyrics by Bill Russell, opened at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in 1997. Side Show received four Tony nominations, including Best Score."

Publication Info

Fax To: (212) 688-5656 
Toll-Free 800-826-7121

Licensing and Rights

© 2000-2005 Tams-Witmark Music Library, Inc.

Fable with Plot Summary


Three ambitious teenage girls set out to win a singing talent contest at the Apollo Theatre and launch a music career in the entertainment industry in the early sixties. 
Unfortunately their dreams are crushed when they lose the talent contest; in return they are quickly snatched up by a sly car dealer, slash wanna-be music industry manager, Curtis Taylor Jr. who lands them a gig singing back up for the famous James 'Thunder' Early. From then on, Curtis ambitiously goes on to transform the young girls into world renown pop divas. In the midst of catapaulting the girl group into superstardom, he lies, cheats, steals and swindles everyone around him:
Curtis sells himself as a manager to the girls and gets the Dreamettes a gig singing backup for James Early.
The girls tour with the famous James "Thunder" and record their first song singing back up for the famous singer; C.C. makes his debut as songwriter/musical composer for the team.
Lorell and James Early begin an affair; Effie and Curtis become romantically involved.
Early's song, Cadillac Car, is stolen by a white pop group; Curtis takes the opportunity to steal James Early from his manager, Marty, and begin crossing over the Dreamettes and James Early to mainstream American pop audiences. 
Curtis gives the Dreamettes a new name: the Dreams. He then proceeds to change the order of things, making Deena the new lead singer and Effie the back up singer. 
Effie is uncomfortable with the new changes but manages the best she can to cope as the Dreams rise to stardom.
Deena becomes a star and Effie is suspicious of an affair between Curtis and Deena. 
Effie acts up and causes drama between the group. (we later discover that she is pregnant)
Curtis fires Effie and replaces her with a slim, more attractive singer: Michelle Morris. 
The Dreams have successfully risen to the top of the pop charts and successfully crossed over into mainstream America; Curtis is more controlling of the group than ever and puts James Early on the back burner. 
The Dreams career continue to flourish as Effie struggles to find herself and get over her past. She finally builds the strength and courage to pursue a career in music again. 
Lorell is fed up with James Early who's personal life and career is crumbling; she finally calls it quits. 
Michelle and C.C. begin a romantic relationship which leads to a marriage proposal.
Deena is fed up with the manipulation and control that Curtis has over her.
C.C. finds Effie and reunites with his sister after years of being apart.
Effie and the Dreams record the same song: One Night Only. As result, Curtis tries to sabotage Effie's career.
C.C. quits working with Curtis and the Dreams, while James Early falls into a slump and is dumped from Curtis' artist management.
Deena stands up for herself and walks away from Curtis. She mends relations with Effie and is informed of Effie's child with Curtis.
Curtis is exposed for illegal dealings concerning his artist recording management and stealing of songs.
The Dreams unite for the last time, this time including Effie, to say good bye to their fans before they embark on their own separate journey's in life. 

Plot Summary

"The musical was based on the history and evolution of American R&B music during the eras of doo-wop, soul, and the Motown Sound, funk, and disco.  In addition, the stage musical contains several allusions to the lives and careers of Motown Records act The Supremes." 

"Dreamgirls is not just about the singing and the dancing and the performing. The play is also about the behind-the-scenes reality of the entertainment industry-the business part of show business that made possible this cultural phenomenon. The subject matter of this play deals with a musical contribution to America of such importance that only now-two decades later-are we beginning to understand." 

Dreamgirls takes audiences on  journey into a rare "behind the scenes" glimpse of life as a recording artist in the entertainment industry. As the musical progresses, we somehow connect with the emotions of each character, and at some point we are able to identify with their struggle. Strip away the glamour, money, and fame and you see the lives of normal people dealing with the same issues as every other average person: love, loss, insecurity, despair, and in the end, hope. Although the setting is in the 1960's and 70's, the theme about relationships and journey to achieving a dream proves to be universally present and relevant.


Deena Jones...Backup singer or the Dreamettes, who becomes the lead singer for the Dremas. Thing, young and beautiful; young and naive
Lorrell Robinson...Third and youngest of the Dreamettes; bright and bubbly; falls into an affair with James Early
Effie White...Lead Singer for the Dreamettes; full-figured; bold and soulful voice
Michelle Morris...Replaces Effie as a backup singer for the Dreams; falls in love with C.C.
The Stepp Sisters...Girl group and rival of the Dreamettes; compete at the Apollo talent contest


Curtis Taylor Jr....Sly, manipulative Cadillac dealer who manages the Dreams and turns them into superstars; becomes romantically involved with Deena
James "Thunder" Early...A James Brown-like soul singer; wild and eccentric; has an affair with Lorrell Robinson
C.C. (Claridge Conrad) White...Effie's talented brother; songwriter and composer for the Dreams; falls in love with Michelle Morris
Marty...Manager for James Early but is later replaced by Curtis Taylor
The MC...Host of the talent show at the Apollo Theatre
Tiny Joe Dixon...Singer and winner of he talent contest at the Apollo Theatre
Little Albert and the Tru Tones...Singing group who compete at the Apollo talent contest
Dave and the Sweethearts...Mainstream white group who re-record James Early's hit song "Cadillac Car"
Jerry Norman...Night club owner; helps Effie get on her feet
Frank...Press Agent
Dwight...T.V. director
Carl...Nightclub pianist

Friday, July 31, 2009

Prince Music Theatre 2005

Prince Music Theatre
Philidelphia, Pennsylvania
December 2005-Febraury '06

Director: Richard M. Parrison Jr.
Choreographer: Mercedes Ellington
Costume Designer: Mark Mariani
Set Design: Todd Edward Ivin

Richard M. Parrison's Jr. direction, Mercedes Ellington's choreography, and Todd Edward Ivins' simple set design -- enlivened by the frequent use of projections -- get their jobs done efficiently if unremarkably. On a higher level are Mark Mariani's superb costumes -- including a trio of what appears to be vintage Pucci dresses for a 1970s sequence -- which give the show some much needed visual pizzazz.

Mercedes Ellington has done excellent work using period movement to make the production dance. However, the movement is superfluous at times, distracting the viewer from the genius of the musical, and is used as unneeded filler during transitions between certain scenes.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bower Theatre 2008

Flint Community Theatre and The New McCree Theatre
Bower Theatre
Flint, Michigan
April 2008

Director and Choreographer: Steven J. Mokofsky
Co-Producer: Charles Winfrey

In order to maintain the show's flow, the scenes are set on a huge turntable that revolves to reveal three divided playing areas. It allows for smooth transitions and few breaks in the action.

Stumptown Theatre (Oregon) 2008

Stumptown Theatre
Portland, Oregon

Director: Kirk Mouser
Set Designer: Janet Mouser
Choreographer: Montana Efaw

Are there problems? Oh, hell yeah. The chintzy set squeezes most of the non-nightclub action into a four-foot alleyway at the front of the stage, and the acting is passable at best and wooden at worst—besides Blackmon and Johnson-Weiss, none of the cast seems comfortable in his or her part once the music stops. But who cares? With singing this good, everything else is parsley.

Janet Mouser's set design is horrendous: Candy-pink steps edged in tinfoil flashing engulf a pit band that's placed smack in the center of the stage, crowding the actors onto the very front edge. Between the terrible design and Mouser's poor use of it, huge amounts of space are wasted while the cast trips over itself on the awkward steps.

Speaking of expectations, it should be noted that as a dramatic vehicle, "Dreamgirls" is a clunker. The writing (both book and songs) is hokey and schematic, a pastiche of Motown's rise and fall blended with some standard-issue romantic melodrama and a handful of stray cliches about the music business, the Civil Rights era and self-actualization. In addition, the acting here isn't seasoned or consistent enough to make the many relationships and their emotional turns feel organic.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Theatre Under The Stars 2007

Hobby Center for the Performing Art
Jones Hall Theatre
Houston, Texas
October, 2007

Director: Robert Clater
Choreographer: Lesia Kaye
Costume Designer: Theoni Aldredge
Lighting Design: Richard Winkler

If this version doesn't have quite the same visual impact, that's because Robin Wagner's production design has been scaled down considerably. The huge lighting towers that dominated, seemingly re-grouping on their own power, here are reduced to four small pillars moved by the cast. It leaves some scenes looking skimpy; the overall flow no longer the technical marvel it had seemed.

Charlotte Theatre 2009

OD Musical Company in association with Vienna Waits Productions
Seoul, Korea
February, 2009

Director: Robert Longbottom
Choreographer: Robert Longbottom and Shane Sparks
Scene Design: Robin Wagner
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Lighting Design: Ken Billington

Other than a fantastic set and luxurious outfits, the actors and actresses’ performances deserved high praise. Not only was Hong Ji-Min’s acting and singing as Effie powerful, Jung Sun-Ah also showed enough talent to hold her place in the limelight with her glamorous look and outstanding vocals.

But it has a fresh, new look, including a minimalist set that relies on $1.3 million worth of LED lights that can replicate everything from a CBS television studio to glitzy concert halls, and project silhouettes to stunning effect.

Reviews have ranged from glowing to cautiously positive, with the brightness of the LED lights and the cast's trouble hitting the soulful low notes drawing some criticism.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Macro: The World of the Play

1. War in the World

One issue dominated world politics in the 1960s: the Cold War. The superpowers of the United States and the Soviet Union faced off in a series of crises and proxy wars throughout the decade, all the while developing massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons.
The US had more than 500,000 troops in Vietnam by 1968 and was drawing heavy casualties.

In spite of the casualties suffered by millions worldwide from WWII, and in spite of peace treaties established by nations around the world, there was yet another reason for more war in the 1960's that would last until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1980.

2. Space Race

The Space Race became an important part of the cultural, technological, and ideological rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Space technology became a particularly important arena in this conflict, because of both its potential military applications and the morale-boosting social benefits.

As nations around the world were evolving and technology was becoming more advanced, nations began exploring the possibilities of expanding beyond the limits of earth's atmosphere.
With Americans participating in space race, a sense of unity and pride could be felt between Americans seeking to lead the world in space technology.

3. Construction of the Berlin Wall

On the evening of August 13, (1961), Governing Mayor Willy Brandt said in a speech to the House of Representatives: “The Berlin Senate publicly condemns the illegal and inhuman measures being taken by those who are dividing Germany, oppressing East Berlin, and threatening West Berlin....”

The construction of the Berlin Wall was a pivitol point in marking the rise of communism, as well as seperating the Western world from the Eastern. It also marked the beginning of the Cold WAr.
4. Nelson Mandela sentenced to prison

On June 12, 1964, eight of the accused, including Mandela, were sentenced to life imprisonment.

In a time of political turmoil and injustice, the clash between unpopular government and it's citizens' led to the rise of rebellious groups, seeking to overthrow corruption.

5. Rise of Communism

The spread of "Communism" after World War II was mostly an anti-imperialist reactionary movement. Communist Parties became popular in Korea, Vietnam, China and Cuba because the people were oppressed by foreign interests within their own countries.

After WWII, communism expanded beyond the borders of the Soviet Union becoming an increased threat not only to America, but to democracy, as well.

6. 1960 Olympics held in Rome

While David Maraniss’s book is about such athletic achievement, it is also about the changing world in which the 1960 Olympics were staged. Political and social events play a central role in the story of the Rome Olympics, from the rise of Communism and the advent of the Cold War to the slow disintegration of racial barriers.

As the Cold War struggle began, America had to unify itself, and pull together the resources its diverse people thus forgetting the issues that divided them like racism and segregation (if not permanently, then at least for the time being).
7. Trouble in Israel: The Six Day War

In 1967 Israel did not wake up one morning and decide to go to war - she woke up one morning and found she had to defend herself.

The birth of Israel as a Jewish nation created tension in the Middle East that would soon create chaos in the Middle East.
Statement: The World of The Play
After watching the musical Dreamgirls one might recall the dynamic African American group of the sixties: Diana Ross and the Supremes. Although the creators of Dreamgirls deny any direct link to Diana and the Supremes, it is obvious that The Supremes experience as America's most successful female pop group in the early 60's and 70's, influenced the story line of the musical. 
For example, controversy over a new lead signer of the group, replacement of a troublesome member, and an affair between performer and manager were all incidents that happened to The Supremes and sure enough, events that also took place in Dreamgirls.  Additionally the characters in Dreamgirls seem to parallel other individuals from the hit Motown Record company. Many references through out the musical suggest sly business manager/husband Curtis Taylor, as a reflection of Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records and infamous Diana Ross svengali. Also, similarities between James "Thunder" Early and Marvin Gaye are questioned. 
Regardless of whether or not it was the intention of the creators to imitate the story of The Supremes, it is obvious that the success of The Supremes and Motown (along with other popular music acts of the time) influenced the Dreamgirls storyline. 

By the end of the 1950's, America was on the verge of change. As the baby boomer generation emerged so did a new way of thinking. The sixities experienced the birth of a counterculture revolution that dramatically changed the face of America politically, economically, and socially. War, shifting values, and the cry for equality and justice for African Americans and other minorities, as well, created tensions that needed a place for release. The emergence of drugs and art served as an outlet for Americans to express themselves and forget about the differences that divided them. As laws prohibiting segregation and efforts condoning the integration of minorities into society increased, windows of opportunity were waiting to be opened by African Americans in the entertainment industry. Although it wasn't easy at first, there was no better time or moment in entertainment history for African American groups to cross over into the likes of mainstream White American audiences. And of course, it took no other but the confident, snake-like, ambitions of Curtis Taylor to see that. 

After the British invasion of the Beatles rocked American audiences in the early sixties, Pop music exploded onto the American market. The sound of pop music is classified as simple, conservative and appealing to a large audience. Record companies were quick to profit off America's hunger for pop music and made sure to give audiences what they wanted. Since profit was the main goal, and mainstream Americans craved that light, fun "pop" sound, record labels often ignored pushing soul artists. The image of the artist was driven by marketability as a whole. We see this presents a problem in Dreamgirls when Curtis makes Deena the lead voice and head of the girl group because of her marketability to mainstream America, resulting in pushing Effie aside even though she has the stronger (more soulful) voice of the bunch. Tensions then reach their climax when Effie is kicked out of the group and replace by the slimmer and more marketable singer, Michelle.

Along with the rise of the counterculture movement came the emergence of the sexual revolution. With the technological research advancements in medicine, doctors were able to treat venereal diseases as well as control pregnancies with contraceptives. This along with other events, helped trigger the exploration of  sex amongst Americans, particularly in the youth. The idea of "free love" spread across the nation and invited people to explore their sexuality more freely than before. As result, pre marital sex was more common and not looked down upon so much as it was in previous times. During a scene when the girls are in the dressing room changing, Lorell and Effie gush about their sexual experience with men and it's natural occurance between people who love each other.  This suggests that they were in tune with the notion of premarital sex that stemmed from the idea of 'free love,' which was growing increasingly popular at the time.  

The Shirelles

The Shirelles
were friends from highschool who made their break in the late 1950's and reached moderate success in R&B music industry during the early sixties

Martha and the Vandelles

Martha and the Vandelles
signed with Motown records and reached 
top 24 on Billboard charts in America
in 1964, however their success was outshined
by the Supremes

The Velvelettes

The Velvelettes
One of the first-class female group acts of Motown

The Supremes

Often referred to as "Motown Glamour" The Supremes were the most glamarous first class act of the sixties

The front cover of TIME Magazine January 11, 1960
reflecting the eclecticism of America in the early sixties

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The World of The Play: Micro View

1. The Dreams versus The Supremes 

The basic plot of Dreamgirls is derived from the history of The Supremes, a girl-group from Detroit, Michigan, which was Motown's most successful group act during the 1960s.

Dreamgirls is a Broadway musical,  with music by Henry Krieger and lyrics and book by Tom Eyen. Based upon the show business aspirations and successes of R&B acts such as The Supremes, The Shirelles, James Brown, Jackie Wilson, and others...

The success of The Dreams and their glamorous transformation from "rags-to-riches" is dramatically similar to the original  story of Motown's celebrated Diana Ross and The Supremes. In fact, several events that take place in the musical reflect incidents that happened in real life, such as the split between Effie and the Dreams. 

2. Racism and segregation in America

In the U.S. today (1967), it seems to many that violence is in the ascendant over cooperation, disruption over order, and anger over reason. The greatest single source of this fear lies in the Negro riots that keep tearing at American cities.

Segregation also took the form of redlining, the practice of denying or increasing the cost of services, such as banking, insurance, access to jobs, access to health care, or even supermarkets, to residents in certain, often racially determined, areas.

By the 1960's America was on the verge of civil war.  Protests against the war, women's rights, government, and most particularly, racism, were issues that created strong division between Americans. Even in the music industry, black artists were segregated and racially discriminated.

3. Civil Rights 

But on August 28, 1963, an estimated quarter of a million people—about a quarter of whom were white—marched from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, in what turned out to be both a protest and a communal celebration.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act made racial discrimination in public places, such as theaters, restaurants and hotels, illegal. It also required employers to provide equal employment opportunities. Projects involving federal funds could now be cut off if there was evidence of discriminated based on colour, race or national origin. 

Although we still see forms of discrimination against The Dreams and Jimmy Early in the beginning of the show, (when their Cadillac song is stolen and given to a Caucasian singing group) as time progresses, the changing times and new laws on social acceptance of different races opens doors of opportunity for the rise to fame for African American performers in the United States.

4. Baby Boomer generation  

In general, baby boomers are associated with a rejection or redefinition of traditional values...By the sheer force of its numbers, the boomers were a demographic bulge which remodeled society as it passed through it.

Thus the tremendous changes that transformed this country in the 1960s took place, not simply because Kennedy succeeded Eisenhower as President, but because the GI Generation replaced the Lost as leaders throughout America and because other just as far reaching demographic changes also transpired in the 1960s.

Demography is destiny, and Americans of today, in ways both obvious and subtle, are inventing the America of tomorrow.  

As America's population demographic began to change, so did the nation's way of thinking. 
Along with the growth of the baby boomer generation, came social reform and a more liberal way of thinking. The young, ambitious Curtis Taylor picks up on the changing times, and repeatedly butts heads with the older, more pessimistic Marty, whose ambitions for musical success are limited due to dated conservative and submissive was of thinking. 

5. Counterculture Movement of the sixties

In the United States, the counterculture of the 1960s became identified with the rejection of conventional social norms of the 1950s. Counterculture youth rejected the cultural standards of their parents, especially with respect to racial segregation and initial widespread support for the Vietnam War. 

Rejection of mainstream culture was best embodied in the new genres of psychedelic rock music, pop-art and new explorations in spirituality. 
In hopes of finding fame and success, The Dreamettes drop everything in Chicago and hit the road to sing back up with Jimmy Early. We find later, Deena had run away from home.

6. Pop Music

According to Simon Frith  pop music is produced "as a matter of enterprise not designed to appeal to everyone" and "doesn't come from any particular place or mark off any particular taste." It is "not driven by any significant ambition except profit and commercial reward...and, in musical terms, it is essentially conservative."

Additionally, this "pop" music is frequently aimed at a predominately white audience that is itself taken to be the "pop," or more insidiously, "mainstream" market and which therefore plays a powerful role in the marketing decisions made by the music industry. 

It is clear that Curtis Taylor knew what he was doing when he made Deena Jones the lead singer for the The Dreams. At that point he knew the best way to cross over his artists into mainstream pop in America was to give the group an image that would be most appealing to Caucasian audiences. One might even suggest that Curtis' fell in love with Deena's potential for success rather than her as a person.

7.  Fashion 

The 1960s represented a change in which Western women were free to dress in any style they chose and were accepted in society. 

From 1960 to 1970, clothing went from classic to crazy. Clothing fads blossomed because there was more money for the middle class to spend on "fun" items.

One of the main spectacles of Dreamgirls is the elaborate costuming. With all the flamboyant fashion trends of the sixties and seventies it is no wonder that the costuming for this show is as glamorous and spectacular as it is.

8. Drugs 

In late 1960s recreational drug use becomes fashionable among young, white, middle class Americans. The social stigmatization previously associated with drugs lessens as their use becomes more mainstream. Drug use becomes representative of protest and social rebellion in the era's atmosphere of political unrest.

A national survey in 1971 estimated that "24 million Americans over 11 years of age had smoked marijuana at least once," while the number of heroin users is believed to have grown from around 50,000 in 1960 to more than 250,000 by the end of the decade.

In the Dreamgirls movie the audience is made blatantly aware of Jimmy Early's drug abuse (particularly with heroin), and it is even linked to his death. As these articles state, the use of drugs exploded onto the American scene in the early sixties and spread rapidly through out the US.

9. Sexual Revolution

It was a development in the modern world which saw the significant loss of power by the values of a morality rooted in the Christian tradition and the rise of permissive societies, of attitudes that were accepting of greater sexual freedom and experimentation that spread all over the world and were captured in the phrase free love. 

With the notion that sexually transmitted diseases were easily treatable, much of the maturing post-WW2 baby boom generation experimented with sex without the need for marriage.

Effie and Lorelle both make reference to "becoming a woman" (finally having sex) and how premarital sex is not wrong at all, but rather natural and part of "being in love." This attitude reflects the popular sexual revolutionist's point of view that the exploration of sex before marriage was not wrong. 

10.  Government Welfare 

The administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson of the 1960s saw a resurgence of public interest in issues regarding minorities, the poor, and children. During this time, new welfare programs were created to help address the continued spread of poverty, homelessness, hunger, and medical problems—difficulties that plagued many of America's citizens.

After being kicked out of the group and struggling as a single parent with her daughter, Magic, Effie White leans on the support of government welfare programs.