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Dreamgirls Reviews

Bill Condon's screenplay for CHICAGO (2002) wrestled the notoriously thorny Bob Fosse show into filmable form, and his reward was Dreamgirls. And if his adaptation of the fabled Michael Bennett spectacle falls short of greatness, it's still very, very good. The plot is a thinly veiled gloss on the rocky rise of girl-group superstars The Supremes, wrapped in a cautionary tale about selling your soul (and your funk and rhythm and blues) to the Devil. It opens in a backstage whirl of 1960s fringe and flutter, as the bouncy, gifted Dreamettes — longtime friends Deena Jones (Beyonce), Effie White (first-time actress Jennifer Hudson) and Lorell Robinson (Anika Noni Rose) — lose a Detroit talent show (pointedly relocated from the show's Chicago to the birthplace of Motown Records) but gain a manager in smooth operator Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx). A car salesman with big plans and rock-solid confidence in his ability to position product, his first move is to hitch the Dreamettes to James "Thunder" Early (Eddie Murphy), a down-and-dirty funk star on the segregated circuit, over lead singer Effie's protests that they don't do "ohh ahh." But in short order, Curtis has recruited Effie's songwriter brother, C.C. (Keith Robinson), elbowed out James' longtime manager (Danny Glover) and started smoothing off the sex machine's dangerous edges. He's also broken off the girls into a stand-alone act rechristened The Dreams, and he's shoved brassy, big-voiced Effie into the background in favor of model-slim Deena. Increasingly and loudly dissatisfied with second-class status, Effie is eventually forced out of The Dreams altogether. After seeing James' hard-driving version of C.C.'s infectious "Cadillac Car" ridden into the top-10 by white-bread crooners, Curtis resolves to beat the mainstream record industry at its own game — by payola, by trend-spotting and by homogenization. Curtis' empire thrives, but the acts on whom it was built pay: The neutered James turns to drugs, Deena grows increasingly miserable in her gilded cage, C.C. rebels at hearing his songs overproduced into top-40 pablum, and the exiled Effie is spiraling into alcoholic poverty. The backstage melodrama never matches the gut-wrenching intensity of A STAR IS BORN (1954), but the film delivers pitch-perfect musical pastiches, a blizzard of sequins and some knockout performances. Murphy is a revelation as James, and what American Idol castoff Hudson lacks in technical acting craft she makes up for in raw energy and a voice that could melt the rhinestones off a beauty queen. To complain that Beyonce pales by comparison is to fault her for nailing the essence of the infinitely malleable Deena. DREAMGIRLS' 10-day reserved-seat engagement at theaters like Manhattan's Ziegfeld prior to its wide opening harkens back to the traditional release pattern for top-tier musicals of the 1960s; the last feature to receive a "road show" release was MAN OF LA MANCHA in 1972.