If Hollywood has a fairy godmother, she must be working overtime for the film Dreamgirls, as the holiday release boasts an unusual amount of good karma. From a wealth of early Oscar buzz and a cast and crew that gets along famously to dazzling choreography masterminded by Fatima Robinson, the Broadway production-turned-film appears slated for success.
Loosely based on The Supremes’ dramatic rise to fame, Dreamgirls has long been a fixture on the stage circuit. The original show (on Broadway from December 1981 to August 1985) won six Tony Awards and ran for 1,522 performances with its glitzy portrayal of an all-female pop trio in the Motown era. Stepping into roles originated by Sheryl Lee Ralph, Jennifer Holliday and Loretta Devine are Beyoncé Knowles, Jennifer Hudson (“American Idol”) and Tony Award–winner Anika Noni Rose (Caroline, Or Change). Joining them are Hollywood heavyweights Jamie Foxx (as the group’s manager), Eddie Murphy (as headliner “Thunder” Early) and Danny Glover (as Early’s agent).
The Dream Team
Landing the choreography gig was no small accomplishment for Robinson (who also dances in the movie), as industry competition was stiff. During summer 2005, hopefuls submitted test tapes for the movie’s biggest dance number, “Steppin’ to the Bad Side.” Rather than accentuate the horns in the song, Robinson (who has never seen the musical) gave the dancers tambourines and incorporated a joyous and lively ambiance into the piece. “They loved the energy and how it morphed into a big, fun number with the dancers reaching to the sky,” she says of the choreography, which is inspired by the moves of the late ’60s and early ’70s and infused with pop.
After signing on, Robinson assembled her choreography team: long-time collaborators Aakomon “AJ” Jones and Eboni Nichols, as well as associate choreographer Joey Pizzi. Jones and Nichols had worked with Robinson on projects for artists like Prince and Nelly, while Pizzi, who danced in and was the associate choreographer of the film version of Chicago, brings a successful movie musical pedigree to the project. Says Nichols, “You dance your whole life waiting for [such] opportunities. This film will be monumental; I’ve had the chance to be part of history.”