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Dreamgirls Soars

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by Taylor Marsh

I wanted to stop by and say Happy New Year to everyone here at Huffington Post. So, being New Years Day, I also am taking a day off from my usual coverage of politics, foreign policy and military issues to focus on two other great loves of mine: the movies and the theater.

So without further ado....

WOW.

Eddie Murphy is on fire and delivers the performance of his life in "Dreamgirls," the film that takes the original Broadway musical from the dustbin of history and finally gives it its due and ranking in entertainment history 25 years later, then goes even further by adding more than even the genius of Michael Bennett could have intended.

It's no secret to my regular readers that I love movies and enjoy reviewing them on many, many occasions (as I do theatrical productions like "Jersey Boys," when inspired by an understudy epidemic!). But I especially savor it when a film production is offered up that breaks the sound barrier. However, "Dreamgirls" offers a special opportunity for me. When "Dreamgirls" opened on Broadway, I was there. I was a performer on the Great White Way at the time, also having the distinct honor to rehearse at the legendary Bennett studios down in the 800 block of Broadway where his dream began to very modest hopes. I remember hearing Jennifer Holiday on Broadway as if it were yesterday, a voice that brought me to tears every time I heard her sing the song that always brings the house down. But it's truly the spirit of Michael Bennett that hovers over the film today.

Many likely don't even know who he is. But the film that takes his genius and puts it on screen is dedicated to Michael Bennett's memory. Anyone performing on Broadway or associated with the arts is proud he's part of this film, which he made possible. Not only is Bennett the spirit of "Dreamgirls," but also of "A Chorus Line," now in revival on Broadway, but he, along with Bob Fosse and many others, were the leading lights on Broadway for many years. That the film of his original vision doesn't stop with Bennett's creation is a testament to the man himself.

Beyonce Knowles breaks through as a true actress in this film.

Jamie Foxx is splendid.

Newcomer Jennifer Hudson, who some may remember from "American Idol," takes over the charge left from Jennifer Holiday 25 years ago, while the show stopping song "You're Gonna Love Me" almost seems constrained behind the screen. But somehow Hudson manages to top the built in crescendos with such heart, pure talent and soul that "performance of a lifetime" doesn't come close to capturing her bravura.

But it is Eddie Murphy, in a supporting role, who shines above them all. Leaner than he has been in decades, more focused and uncompromising in taking chances, Mr. Murphy delivers on the rascal bad boy, ala the late James Brown, in a way that is staggering to behold from the moment he steps on to the screen to the moment his character implodes, which as is fitting is done on stage in front of a live TV audience. Brilliant starts the adjectives to describe his tour de force performance. Oscar(r) worthy is another.

The magic of the movie "Dreamgirls" is not just that it honors Mr. Bennett's creative genius, but that it also captures the reality of the real life war of image, talent and disappointment so many performers experience on their way through the entertainment mill, because talent isn't always enough, especially today. We all look at the models, the beauties, the perfect 10 bodies of the stars, while discussing the harm these images have on women, but in the movie "Dreamgirls" you see it in action. Then you look at Ms. Knowles and Mr. Murphy, who have never been as lean as they are in this movie, likely due to the rigors of this type of performing for film, which adds weight, and you get a story within a story, within a story.

How many women and girls of great talent haven't struggled with the perfect figure or at least a figure that wasn't seen as abnormal as Cosmo would have it? How many men have walked away from a fatty to look onward to someone thinner and more the image of his mind's eye perfect girl? It's the same way in performing and entertainment, especially back in the day where Blacks were also trying to break into the whiteys only world. Just ask Lena Horne about the benefits of her looks, while Dorothy Dandridge was felled by a harsher judgment, with Sammy Davis, Jr.'s champion, Frank Sinatra, making all the difference in his career. Yet all these amazing black performers suffered harsh realities. When you add the beauty angle the torment triples.

It's art imitating life, then back again to art, to life, then do it again adding feeling and heartbreak.

"Dreamgirls" is spectacular. Michael Bennett would be proud. But don't take my word for it. See it for yourself.

- Taylor Marsh

UPDATE: Brain takes a holiday typo fixed, voxpop. And WHOA is right. I hadn't seen Jennifer Holiday's Tony performance in forever. Thanks so much for sharing.

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