Thirty-five years after the ground-breaking original Broadway production, the sensational and iconic musical DREAMGIRLS makes its UK premiere at the Savoy Theatre starring Amber Riley (Glee) as ‘Effie White’.
Long touted and denied by the creative team behind Dreamgirls that there is any connection between the musical’s plot and the Supremes life stories, there do appear to be quite a few striking similarities between the two.
Why deny it? Well Berry Gordy, Diana Ross and The Supremes might not be as litigious as Barbra Streisand (look at the length Buyer & Cellar went to avoid a lawsuit) but it’s pretty obvious it boils down to litigation.
Let’s look at the similarities:
- Both started off as ‘ettes’, The Supremes were originally the Primettes, the Dreams started out as Dreamettes.
- The original lead singers of both groups Florence Ballard and Effie White were replaced by Diana Ross and Deena Jones who were chose to take lead vocal because of their distinctive, softer commercial voices.
- Deena Jones is coached to be the spokesperson for the Dreams during press conferences, just as Diana Ross was for the Supremes.
- The press was instructed to refer to Diana Ross as “Miss Ross,” just as the press are instructed to refer to Deena Jones as “Miss Jones.”
- The love affair between Deena Jones and Curtis Taylor Jr. was modeled on Diana Ross and Berry Gordy Jr.’s love affair which eventually led to his emphasis on her career rather than that of the group. This is also referenced in Berry’s own musical Motown The Musical.
- The storyline of Lorrell Robinson and James “Thunder” Early’s relationship resembles Mary Wilson’s relationships with fellow Motown artists.
- Florence Ballard became jealous and hostile towards Diana Ross when she was sidelined in favour of Ross. Effie White reacts in a similar manner when Deena Jones is pushed forward as the star of the Dreams.
- Florence Ballard missed performances, recording sessions, allegedly “faked” illnesses, and gained weight, all of which resulted in her being fired from the group in Las Vegas in 1967. The character of Effie White goes through the same experience.
- Cindy Birdsong went on to perform with the Supremes the same night Florence Ballard was fired, just as Michelle Morris goes on to perform with the Dreams the same night Effie White is fired.
- The Supremes became “Diana Ross & the Supremes” in 1967 while in Las Vegas. The Dreams became “Deena Jones & the Dreams” in 1967 while in Las Vegas.
- Diana Ross left the Supremes in 1970 to pursue other projects such as film work, in 1972 she starred in her first motion picture, the Motown-produced Lady Sings the Blues. The character of Deena Jones leaves the Dreams in 1972 to pursue a career as an actress.
Dreamgirls plays from 19 November 2016 at the Savoy Theatre.