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.
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 art...is 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.
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.
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.