re: Dreamgirls Musical: Similarities to Supremes

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Patti LuPone FANatic
Broadway Legend
Hello. I saw the film "Dreamgirls" and thought it was fantastic. Although I have never seen the musical, I have some thoughts on it. There has been much mention of how "Dreamgirls" was created and that it had nothing to do with the real life occurrences within the Supremes. But, being the cynic that I am, I believe that (possibly)information about the problems within the Supremes became apparent and the creative team of the musical put that in their work. To me, there are any number of similarities between the musical and the real Supremes for it (the musical) to have been merely coincidental. It's just a theory. from Roman in Austin, Texas
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No matter what anyone says, its obvious some of the piece, if not all of it was inspired by the story of Diana Ross and the Supremes and in the film it's more than obvious that Deena is supposed to be a Ross figure

Deena/Diana, obviously.

But the same could be said about Destiny's Child, the similarities are close there too.
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"Fenchurch is correct, as usual." - muscle23ftl
somethingwicked Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
The similarities abound between the two stories (a heavier girl with a big voice is kicked out of the group, the lead singer is involved romantically with the producer, etc.,) but some key things are different too.

In real life, Florence Ballard never made a comeback like Effie does in the show/film. Ballard died in squaller several years after leaving The Supremes.

There are similarities (visually) in the film. One thing I think Beyonce Knowles does well in the movie is channel Diana Ross. If you watch the scene where The Dreams are performing "Heavy Heavy" on television, Beyonce nails the slouched over pose Ross made her trademark. It was a bit eery to watch.

Tonya Pinkins: Then we had a "Lot's Wife" last June that was my personal favorite. I'm still trying to get them to let me sing it at some performance where we get to sing an excerpt that's gone.
Tony Kushner: You can sing it at my funeral.
Updated On: 12/30/06 at 05:07 PM
Broadway Legend
The basic plot of Dreamgirls is derived from the history of The Supremes, a girl-group from Detroit which was Motown's most successful group act during the 1960s. Effie White is a doppelganger for Florence Ballard, original lead singer of the Supremes. Diana Ross, who became the central focus of the Supremes and later left the group to pursue a solo career and a brief venture into films, is here adapted into the character of Deena Jones. Supremes member Mary Wilson is represented by Lorrell Robinson. Curtis Taylor, Jr. represents Berry Gordy, Jr., the founder of Motown, who pushed the Supremes towards pop success and became romantically involved with Ross. James "Thunder" Early is depicted as a cross between James Brown, Marvin Gaye, and Jackie Wilson, and C. C. White is a collective representative for The Supremes' primary songwriters, Holland-Dozier-Holland. Michelle Morris is representative of Cindy Birdsong, Florence Ballard's replacement in The Supremes, which was renamed "Diana Ross & the Supremes" at the time of that personnel change.

Dreamgirls is most dissimilar from The Supremes' story in its second act, which ends with Effie finding success as a solo performer. In real life, Florence Ballard's solo career was unsuccessful and the singer sank into poverty, depression, and alcoholism, dying of cardiac arrest at the age of thirty-two in 1976.

Mary Wilson loved Dreamgirls, and even named her first autobiography, Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme, after it. Diana Ross, however, was reportedly angered by the musical, and expressed her dislike of it in the media. Though the Deena character mirrors Diana Ross, Sheryl Lee Ralph stands to the fact that she was not trying to imitate Ross, but portrayed Deena in a similar yet distinct style.
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Broadway Legend
When it originally opened, the Dreamgirls creators tried to kill any talk that it was based on the Supremes for any legal action that they feared Diana Ross would attempt. At least, that's what Henry Krieger has been quoted to say. They are much more open abotu it now. It's not a theory, PattiLuponeFanatic, it's commonly known that the musical is inspired by the Supremes. Though certain elements of the musical were added from stories about the Chiffons, the Marvelettes and other popular girl groups of that time.
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sidneybruhl Profile Photo
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Although the reliability of Wikipedia has already been called into question, this bio on Ballard sounds eerily like the synopsis of "Dreamgirls."

Updated On: 12/30/06 at 06:38 PM
Broadway Legend
Actually the reality of Wikipedia is that most academics and proessors trust wikipedia more than some of the major encyclopedias because you can look at the discussions behind the entries and then make your own decisions.

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"Fenchurch is correct, as usual." - muscle23ftl
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My English teacher prohibited us from using Wikipedia while working on our research papers.
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Fiction Writer
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Ours too. The articles aren't regarded as fact, just opinion. I could submit anything I wanted and it'd be in there.
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dirty rotten guy
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DianE ErNestine eArle ross
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Professors don't let children and young students use it, for obvious reasons, but not the ones you mentioned.

If you did put up any old bull up there it would come down fairly quickly, because unlike Websters, its constantly being updated and monitored.
"Fenchurch is correct, as usual." -Keen on Kean
"Fenchurch is correct, as usual." - muscle23ftl
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Broadway Star
Though there's the big difference that Deena is pretty compassionate and loving whereas Diana Ross, you know, lacks a soul.
"Your lyrics lack subtlety! You can't just have your characters announce how they feel! That makes me feel angry!"
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Broadway Legend
Interestingly enough, in one of the earliest workshops of "Dreamgirls," when it was still being called "Project 9," Effie died at the end of the first act, causing Jennifer Holliday's first walk-out.

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somethingwicked Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
theaterkid, I don't think Effie died at the end of the first act. She sang "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" still to close it, and then never returned the rest of the show (the character's death was mentioned in the second act.)
Tonya Pinkins: Then we had a "Lot's Wife" last June that was my personal favorite. I'm still trying to get them to let me sing it at some performance where we get to sing an excerpt that's gone.
Tony Kushner: You can sing it at my funeral.
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Broadway Star
Do you work for Wikipedia Fenchurch?

I agree that if you put up something ridiculous it will come down, but that doesnít mean wrong stuff canít sneak in and stay in for quite a while. I donít think itís any better than an encyclopedia really.

The problem with Wikipedia is that itís not refereed source, and thatís why you canít use it in academic work. Itís useful but I certainly would double and triple check any info I found there before putting in a paper .

Updated On: 12/31/06 at 12:00 PM
Broadway Legend
Actually, real academics cite Wikis all the time, the trend is growing for precisely the reason you said, because you CAN check the sources, if you click on the discussion tab, you get a whole forum on the subject in question and that can direct your research further as well as see if the wiki is biased based on who edited it.

It's a much better tool than an encyclopedia which is decided by an usually anonymous committee with a hidden agenda, on wikipedia, the agenda is usually obvious, and you can make educated opinions from that.

No, I don't work for wikipedia, but in essence, I do, because Wikipedia if a user-defined encyclopedia, so yeah, I do.

Wikipedia is especially helpful for pop culture or quickly changing topics, because the information if updated much more quickly and the hotbutton issues are monitored more closely.

"Fenchurch is correct, as usual." -Keen on Kean
"Fenchurch is correct, as usual." - muscle23ftl
there are definately similarities...I bet the producers wanted to make a musical about racism in music and the cost of fame and based it on many acts...obviously the story with the supremes was too perfect not to use and probably came to front....they probably did not want to come forward with the supremes connection because of possible lawsuits and because it helped to create press...not to mention that there are many people that had similar things happen to them in the way the supremes did...eddie murphy said that though his role is based on many people he saw it as the one that inspired them all and never really gives the idea that there are so many people who got pushed asside because they didnt fit into the mold...and therefore many great talent was lost
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Mr. Nowack
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I never knew about the Florence Ballard situation until today. What a different story it would have been if Effie disappeared after act one and later died like Ballard. It would have been a much colder show business parable than it is now.

I wonder why it was suddenly alright when the movie came around to tout the Supremes similarities when it was such a taboo subject before.
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ucjrdude902 Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
I've never seen a production of Dreamgirls but maybe it's because the movie paints Deena as a hero in the end and that's something Ross's people were okay with being put out there?
StageManager2 Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
MADtv did a parody of the Dreamgirls movie, where they point out the obvious similarities between The Dreams and The Supremes.

Effie: And who do you think you are -- Diana Ross?
Deena: My name is Deena, not Diana. And we're The Dreams, not The Supremes. And we're from Detroit, not Det- Still, I'm nothing like Diana Ross!

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According to Sheryl Lee Ralph on Oprah's Where Are they Now?, Diana believed that it was based on the Supremes and was even very cold to Sheryl when they met during the shows run.
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The Other One
Leading Actor
It is inspired by the story of The Supremes, but it's still a fictional piece.

Florence Ballard was never the lead singer of The Supremes. If you listen to their earliest recordings, back when they were a foursome known as The Primettes, Diana (then known as Diane) Ross was nearly always the lead singer, although Florence and Mary each had their occasional solo. The primary difference is that their backing vocals were featured much more prominently. They also stood alongside Diana when they performed live. As they became bigger, the girl group phase began to wane. Ross' vocals were more dominant on the recordings and she stood in front of the other two when performing live. Florence felt that they were being phased out. She wanted solo lines in songs, as the guys in The Temptations had, but Berry Gordy was not interested in such an arrangement. She gained weight in her last year with The Supremes (although she was never as big as the Jennifers Holliday and Hudson) and became erratic. She drank a bit and could not handle her liquor. She would miss rehearsals. She once missed a show and Diana and Mary performed as a duo. She was spoken to and told to get it together, and she knew that Cindy Birdsong, who had filled in for her when she missed an engagement at the Hollywood Bowl, was rehearsing the stage act in her absence. She did make an effort to shape up, but when she arrived in Vegas in July of 1967 to see them now billed as Diana Ross and The Supremes on the marquee, she lost it and performed poorly. That turned out to be her final show.

She had recorded the songs that were on the first "Diana Ross and The Supremes" album, "Reflections", but Cindy Birdsong was credited. On nearly all of their later recordings, Diana sang leads and Motown back-up singers The Andantes provided the support. Mary and Cindy usually only sang live. Florence's more robust voice was plainly missed, but if you listen to her solos you will realize she was no Effie White-style powerhouse. She was just a good singer who tired of her increasingly reduced role on the world's stage. Her own unpredictable behavior had more to do with her being replaced than any other factor, and I doubt anyone was very happy about replacing her.

The tragedy is that she was bought out for very little money, and her release stipulated that she could never promote herself as an original or former Supreme. She was never able to get her career off the ground and with a family to support she went broke. It was a shock in the early 70s when she resurfaced on welfare. She seemed on the verge of a comeback, and then, out of nowhere, she died.

This is my favorite lead vocal of hers, from the album "The Supremes Sing Sam Cooke." I hope you like it:
Broadway Legend
"Diana believed that it was based on the Supremes and was even very cold to Sheryl when they met during the shows run."

I believe it's in Mary Wilson's book, but the stories have it that when Diana Ross went to see it, she walked out at intermission.
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