RT’s Jen and Matt were treated to a razzle-dazzle evening on Monday night for a press presentation of Bill Condon‘s upcoming Motown showbiz musical, "Dreamgirls." They braved torrential rains to arrive at a tent located just outside the famous Orpheum Theater in downtown Los Angeles, where guests were greeted at the door by throngs of waiters offering trays of martinis and wine — but would freely flowing libations be enough to melt the hearts and tough opinions of the media?
"Dreamgirls" is Condon‘s latest project and his next attempt at the film musical following the Oscar coup of 2002, "Chicago," which Condon scripted. This time Condon directs as well as scripts, with a screenplay adapted from the original book of its Broadway run, with additional dialogue and four new songs from composer Henry Krieger. Like "Chicago," "Dreamgirls" is another backstage musical, this time set in the world of 1960s Motown, and follows the rise and fall of a girl group, The Dreamettes — with pop star Beyonce Knowles as Deena, Broadway actress Anika Noni Rose as Lorrell, and "American Idol" finalist Jennifer Hudson in her acting debut as Effie. Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover and Jamie Foxx add star power to the cast.
Despite a star-studded line-up and Oscar-winning talent at the helm, "Dreamgirls" is a musical — and in the wake of such Broadway-to-screen flops as last year’s "Rent" and "The Producers," Condon and Co. may need the help of marketing magic to avoid similar pitfalls.
Hence, the "Dreamgirls" press event. Monday night’s lavish presentation by DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures was a rarity among media events; not a conventional set visit by any means, it was more of an open house that offered a glimpse into the movie-in-the-making with star appearances, behind-the-scenes peeks, and a feeling of exclusivity. Throw in fabulous hors d’oeuvres and an open bar, and there was no way this publicity experiment could fail.
For the first hour (coincidentally, plenty of time for guests to get a good buzz going), the few hundred attendees were free to nosh, imbibe, and wander around various booths set up, each hosted by a key figure in the production of "Dreamgirls." Production designer John Myhre (up for an Oscar this Sunday for "Memoirs of a Geisha") held court in front of a giant background informing passers-by who exactly he was, and he sat in a director’s chair with his name on it, waiting for guests to approach and engage him in conversation. Also manning posts were costume designer Sharen Davis (Oscar-nominated last year for "Ray"), composer Henry Krieger (who wrote the original Broadway soundtrack), and choreographer-to-the-stars Fatima Robinson (whose credits include co-directing the music video for the Black Eyed Peas’ "My Humps" and choreographing videos for the late Aaliyah, but whom we will always remember for composing dance routines for the Backstreet Boys).
Bill Condon eventually got up on a small stage and gave a brief synopsis of the film — contrary to other people’s denials, he admits "Dreamgirls" is loosely based on the history of girl group The Supremes. He discussed how much he is enjoying working on the project and introduced the composer of the original Broadway musical, Henry Krieger, who has written four new songs just for the film. Krieger expressed his absolute joy of having the chance to work on the film and said this was a dream come true.
Condon then introduced choreographer Robinson; costume designer Davis; director of photography Tobias Schliessler; editor Virginia Katz; and lighting designers Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer. Finally Keith Robinson ("Fat Albert"), who plays the character of C.C., popped up on stage for a wave. It was a nice touch to have each of these people give a short greeting and express their enthusiasm about the movie.
At this point Condon presented a short clip from the film with Jamie Foxx and two other actors singing ‘Steppin’ to the Bad Side’. After a brief twenty seconds or so the clip finished, and Condon ushered attendees next door into the Orpheum Theater, where the audience would (surprise!) witness the filming of the rest of the song!
Inside the ornate Orpheum Theater a camera crew had been set up, music playback started, and stars Knowles, Hudson, and Rose filed out onstage in full costume — red sequined gowns and big ’60s coifs. They lip-synched to the track in character as the Dreamettes, backing James "Thunder" Early (Eddie Murphy) while a dozen background dancers filled three tiers behind them. Though Murphy didn’t show up, his stand-in was actually quite charismatic and for the short four minute song we could almost imagine the spectacular, flashy "Steppin’ to the Bad Side" as a scene in the film.
At the end of the performance, Jamie Foxx came out on stage and briefly expressed his enjoyment working on the film and said that it was great to see a project that made Eddie Murphy enthusiastic. A moment later Foxx invited everyone back to the hospitality tent, indicating that the show was over, and the crowd was ushered out of the Orpheum mere minutes after they had entered.
Back at the tent, Beyonce and her entourage made their way through the tent greeting people, occasionally stopping for a quick interview with various reporters. A few minutes after she left, Hudson, Rose and Foxx came in and did the same.
The stars made their appearances and left, leaving the leftover crowd of media and industry folk to mill about on their own. We took our cue to exit, and spent time next door at the Broadway Bar to reflect over what we’d seen.
"Dreamgirls" promo poster, picked up at the presentation