8 reasons to see ‘Dreamgirls’ in its one night only at Millennium Park

Written By By HEDY WEISS Theater Critic Posted: 08/17/2014, 04:34pm
Array Jennifer Hudson as Effie in “Dreamgirls.” DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures present a Laurence Mark Production, a Bill Condon Film, “Dreamgirls,”f for SUNDAY SHOWCASE COVER 12/20/06

‘Dreamgirls,” the 2006 film based on the 1981 Broadway hit musical with a score by Henry Krieger (music) and Tom Eyen (lyrics and book), will be screened Tuesday as part of the free outdoor Summer Film Series in Millennium Park. Projected on a state-of-the-art, 40-foot LED screen, the film can be watched from a seat in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion (available on a first-come, first-served basis) or from a spot on the Great Lawn.

A fictionalized version of the Motown story — and the megastars, including the Supremes, who made its recordings the soundtrack of several generations — the movie in many ways trumps “Motown the Musical,” the show devised by Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. True, it doesn’t have the “original” songs of the era, but it is full of sensational musical numbers and knockout performances, and on an emotional level it supplies much that was missing in “Motown.”

Here are eight more reasons why you should claim your place on the grass in Millennium Park:

1. On Aug. 9, “Motown the Musical” ended its run at the Oriental Theatre to embark on its national tour. So think of it this way: If you missed Gordy’s “real version” of the Motown story — or even if you paid big bucks to catch it — you now can see what in some ways feels like a truer and more embattled chronicle of events.

2. While “Dreamgirls” (the stage musical) was set in Chicago, the movie, directed by Bill Condon, was returned to its rightful source city, Detroit.

3. You will be reminded of why Chicago-bred Jennifer Hudson, who first garnered attention as a finalist on “American Idol” and then made her film debut in “Dreamgirls,” won international acclaim for her portrayal of the jilted Effie White (a version of the real-life Florence Ballard), and why she won the Academy Award for best supporting actress, a Golden Globe Award, a BAFTA Award, an NAACP Image Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award, to boot. You also will be reminded of how Hudson tore open the screen with her performance of “And I Am Telling You.” And you will recall the radical slim-and-trim, supremely glamorous diva makeover she accomplished following her success in the film.

4. And oh yes, there also is that woman named Beyonce Knowles, playing Deena Jones, the Diana Ross alter ego. As if you had any doubts, the woman can not just sing, dance and zap the 21st century record business in ways that easily compete with Gordy’s brilliant entrepreneurship in the 1960s, but the woman can ACT. (Maybe next summer this series will screen “Cadillac Records,” the 2008 film about Chicago-based record producer Leonard Chess, with Beyonce featured in a memorable portrayal of Etta James.)

5. You can home in on that magic scene in which the seductive Jamie Foxx (as Curtis Taylor, the Berry Gordy alter ego) sings to Beyonce (Deena), about “When I First Saw You,” as they walk through a room of giant photos that only magnify her beauty. It’s an Audrey Hepburn-like momentreminiscent of “Funny Face” (and Beyonce is even dressed in a sort of contemporary take on Hepburn’s “My Fair Lady” outfit).

6. You can understand why Berry Gordy was determined to “correct the record” of “Dreamgirls” with his “Motown the Musical,” particularly in the way his relationships with his artists is portrayed. (Another “corrective” can be found in “The Marvelous Marvelettes,” the terrific Black Ensemble Theater show running through Sept. 7.)

7. You can applaud the producers of “Dreamgirls” who believed that its $80 million budget (said at that point to be the most expensive film to feature an all-African-American-starring cast in American cinema history) would reap rewards. And as it happens, it earned $154 million worldwide.

8. Finally, you can only hope that Chicago’s Black Ensemble Theater will decide to shake things up a bit and try its hand at staging “Dreamgirls.” The company has all the talent it needs. It’s just waiting for the opportunity.

Email: hweiss@suntimes.com

Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic

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