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Set Visit: Dreamgirls

03.03.2006

When Dreamworks wants to promote an upcoming film, they go all out. We were recently invited to a set visit for the new musical called DREAMGIRLS, to be released by Dreamworks and Paramount on December 22 of this year. The film, set in the turbulent early 1960’s to mid-70’s, is based on the 1981 Tony Award winning Broadway musical about the rise of a trio of women singers called The Dreamettes. The visit itself, set for February 27, was completely shrouded in secrecy. I knew absolutely no details at all and I was very curious. Were they still filming? Was I going to see any of the films’ stars including Jaime Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, or Eddie Murphy? And more importantly, was it going to be a catered affair? (I’m shallow, shoot me!)

What I did know was that I was not allowed to bring any video or audio recording equipment of any kind. (A strange thing for a set visit!) The jet black invitation said “Presentation begins promptly at 7:00pm.” Presentation? I’m totally confused...yet intrigued. Written on the outside of the invite card are the words “One Night Only…”, so with pen and pad in hand, I headed to the event with lots of questions and an empty stomach!

6:00pm – Arrival

I arrive outside the Orpheum Theatre, in Downtown Los Angeles California, to be greeted with free parking in a nearby lot. (Something completely unheard of in this town!) I walk to the Theatre and am directed to head down the side to a large tent that has been set up next door. Good thing the tent has a large canopy top, as it is raining cats and dogs out here! Security is tight, which could be either good or bad, we’ll see as the night goes on. I present ID and get an official badge and have my umbrella taken by an…umbrella check. (Cool, but who ever heard of such a thing!?) It looks like the Dreamgirls people have gone all out. But I hadn’t seen anything yet.

I am greeted by no less then four waiters, all brandishing a tray full of drinks, from Chardonnay to Martinis, and even sparkling water. That’s not all. There are two sections of food - one has more, I would call, refined items like exotic stuffed mushrooms and tiny stuffed peppers, while the other has more average Joe eats like macaroni and cheese, chicken strips and meatloaf. (Which do you think I went for?!) But let’s not forget about the free open bar, filled with enough alcohol to make even Jack Daniels blush and a dessert section that had me going back for seconds. Sometimes life is good!

6:20pm – 7:00pm – Meet And Greet

I come to my senses and realize that I don’t work for the Food Network as a taster, so I take a look around at the exhibits that Dreamworks and Paramount have set up in the tent. First, there is a mural that talks about the history of the original Broadway musical, complete with a TV monitor playing some of the great moments.

Next, I see a cavalcade of hand made models of the various sets from the film, some just done in a white and black, while others are lavish and decked out in full color. The man in charge of all this, Production Designer John Myhre, has worked on some great films like ALI, X-MEN and CHICAGO, for which he won an Oscar. We chat for a minute or two, as he tells me that there are over 30 technical drawings for each set. Also the reason some are more detailed is that they use a special lipstick camera on the actual models to get various camera angles and see what they would look like using small figures in place of the actors. It’s an interesting technique he found while working on a John Boorman film. (Which was A SIMPLE PLAN and was eventually directed by EVIL DEAD’s Sam Raimi instead!)

He did say that working on this film was the “most collaborative” film he had ever worked on. I really want to know, off the record, what it was like to work with some of my idols like Michael Mann and Bryan Singer. His answers are very revealing, saying…sorry it was off the record!

Then I move down the tent to a section dedicated to the songs from DREAMGIRLS, where music man Henry Krieger is on hand. Henry had created the music for the original Broadway production and told me that he had created 4 new songs for the film, as well as additional music and lyrics. I ask him if there is anything from the stage version that he wished had made it into the film, but he seems very content with the outcome so far, noting that only one song from the play was not in the movie.

I sashay over to where 7 well dressed mannequins are staring down at me. The woman responsible for the vintage 60’s and 70’s threads is Costume Designer Sharen Davis, who also won an Oscar for her work on the film RAY. The costumes, which Davis pointed out as having glitter and glam in an atypical way, have a lot of metal in their design. (Not to mention they look pretty snazzy!) Up for display are various Dreamettes gowns, some of which were designed specifically for Beyonce, as well as costumes worn by Murphy and Foxx. And dead center of the display is a set of wigs, worn by various cast members. All this stuff definitely captures the period!

I have only a few minutes left to hit the last corner of the tent, that of Choreographer Fatima Robinson. I wait patiently as a group of Japanese journalists, complete with interpreter, ask a zillion questions. (Luckily a waiter came around with a tray of some cream cheese and ham something or other – hell it tasted good!) I finally get to her and only have time for a quickie. I ask point blank, who took to the choreography easiest and who had the most difficulty? Of course, Beyonce was the answer for best, and American Idol’s Jennifer Hudson got the stamp for the latter, though Robinson says she worked hard and now looks great.

7:00pm – 7:30pm – Teaser

Director of DREAMGIRLS Bill Condon takes the mini-stage with microphone, welcoming everyone. He introduces all four of the technical people previously mentioned; talking about how great they are to work with and so forth. He also talks up Director of Photography Tobias Schliessler and…well you get the picture. He then informs the anxious crowd that we will be watching a clip from the film with Jaime Foxx, a musical number called Steppin’ To The Bad Side. It’s a quick shot of Foxx and two others dancing down a dark alley and they go into a building. The tape shuts off and we are instructed to walk down the alley to the legendary Orpheum Theatre. Upon entering I notice that there is massive equipment, including 4 film cameras, one on a gigantic crane. I also see that the floor of the stage is super slick and shiny and the smoke machine is in high gear, so I take the aisle seat. What’s gonna happen?

7:30 – 7:35 – The Presentation

The three Dreamettes, Beyonce, Jennifer Hudson and Anika Noni Rose, take the stage, in full glittering outfits. They all look ravishing, especially Beyonce. (Reeeow!) The director calls quiet, rolling, then action. Playback begins and the back curtain lifts, revealing a large constructed pipe set and a group of dashing background dancers. It was quite a finish to the taped number we’d just watched earlier.

My only problem is that Eddie Murphy (who sings the number) was not there. Instead they have a guy doing his moves, which would have been fine, except he is in regular street clothes, while everyone else is in full 60’ garb - it slightly diminishes the work the rest did. (But Murphy’s voice on the playback sounds good – better then his "Party All The Time" song!) When the number is over, special guest Jaime Foxx comes out to address the crowd. He talks about the great work everyone put into the film, making all of us laugh when he states that “to see Eddie Murphy excited about something is amazing!” He plugs the film, soundtrack and the tent again (saying it had free booze!) and he and everyone exits stage right.

7:35 - ? – Eat and Run

I head back to the tent for a second helping of food, but settled for a cold sprite in lieu of alcohol. (Hey, I still gotta drive home!) I eat like a king and head for the exit. All in all in interesting night and if you liked CHICAGO or are just a fan of musicals in general, this is one you most definitely should look out for. Bon Appetite!

DREAMGIRLS opens wide on December 22nd
Check out its OFFICIAL SITE HERE!!

CLICK IMAGE TO OPEN GALLERY & SEE MORE PICS...

Source: DreamWorks

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