STAGE TO SCREENS: "Dreamgirls" Composer Krieger and Co-Star Rose; Plus David Warren

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17 Dec 2006

Tony Award winner Anika Noni Rose in
Tony Award winner Anika Noni Rose in "Dreamgirls."
Photo by Dreamworks SKG
This month, composer Henry Krieger and Tony winner (Caroline, or Change) Anika Noni Rose talk about the "Dreamgirls" film, and David Warren (The Voysey Inheritance) reflects on his crossover to TV ("Desperate Housewives").

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"Dreamgirls," which opened in New York and Los Angeles on Dec. 15, goes nationwide on Christmas Day. The film comes 25 years after the Henry Krieger-Tom Eyen musical premiered (Dec. 20, 1981) on Broadway. It was the last show for Michael Bennett (1943-87), who directed, co-choreographed, and co-produced, and to whom the movie is dedicated.

Bill Condon wrote and directed the film. An Oscar-winning screenwriter ("Gods and Monsters"), he penned the screenplay for "Chicago." Performances are superb, especially Beyoncé Knowles (as Deena Jones), Jamie Foxx (Curtis Taylor, Jr.), Eddie Murphy (a likely Supporting Actor Oscar contender as James "Thunder" Early), Anika Noni Rose (Lorrell Robinson), and Danny Glover (Marty Madison).

Jennifer Hudson (Effie White) turns in an award-caliber portrayal that should earn her a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. Already the winner of the New York Film Critics Best Supporting Actress Award, she garnered a Variety rave: "An 'American Idol' finalist without prior screen experience, Hudson comes fully-formed to film. It's the kind of galvanizing perf that calls to mind debuts like Barbra Streisand in 'Funny Girl' or Bette Midler in 'The Rose'...."



Essentially a high-gloss soap opera (recalling the rise of the Supremes), it doesn't matter if one is aware of the inspirations for many of the characters, or that there are some pat plot points and moments a tad too sentimental. Audiences (many of whom are paying $25-a-ticket for the first weeks' showings) should respond favorably to the rapid-fire action and numerous musical numbers, the best of which is Hudson's "And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going."

Golden Globe nominations were announced Dec. 14 and "Dreamgirls" received five: Picture (Musical or Comedy), Actress (Beyoncé), Supporting Actress and Actor (Hudson and Murphy), and for the new song (one of four) "Listen," sung by Beyoncé, with a lyric by Knowles, Scott Cutler, and Anne Preven; music by Henry Krieger.

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Says Henry Krieger (we spoke in late November), "I've seen the movie three times and I'm seeing it three more times this coming week. We certainly got lucky with Mr. Condon. There's no question. I'm beside myself with appreciation of Bill Condon and everybody else who's made [the film] what it is. I hope the public will embrace it."

Over the years, there have been other attempts to bring the musical to the screen. "A lot of different times," admits Krieger. "One time, [director] Joel Schumacher was set to do it, with a screenplay by Tina Andrews."

Besides "Listen," the new songs (all with Krieger's music) are "Love You I Do," performed by Hudson, and "Perfect World," which, explains Krieger, "is excerpted in the film. A lot of it happens in the scene with James and Lorell discussing their relationship." Both songs have lyrics by singer-songwriter Siedah Garrett. "I adore her!," exclaims Krieger.

There's also "Patience," performed by Murphy, Rose, and Keith Robinson, which has lyrics by Willie Reale (a Tony nominee for A Year With Frog and Toad). Notes Krieger, "He founded the 52nd Street Project, an outreach program for children. I've been with it since 1988, and have written over a hundred songs for it, most of them with Willie Reale."

Which songwriters influenced Krieger? "I've always been a big fan of Richard Rodgers. I also love his grandson Adam Guettel's work. Certainly Frank Loesser, and I was very, very impressed with Lerner and Loewe's score for My Fair Lady.

"On occasion, I attended Broadway musicals. My first was South Pacific. I also liked Meredith Willson's shows, and I loved Take Me Along, with Jackie Gleason. I went to see it twice by myself. It completely captivated me as a 14 year old. Gleason was so good, and I remember Miss [Eileen] Herlie singing 'I Get Embarrassed.' That show was a huge event in my young life.

"I grew up in a couple of different worlds. I discovered rhythm and blues — Ray Charles — by hearing him sing 'Swanee River Rock' on the radio. I was 10 years old and ran to the record store to buy it.

"When I was in high school, and driving around with my friends, it was the period of 'Dreamgirls.' I'd listen to 'Stand By Me,' all the Aretha [Franklin] hits, the Drifters, Etta James. I also loved Fats Waller and Chopin."

Born in New York City, Krieger moved with his family "soon afterwards to White Plains, and then Ossining." He and his sister attended "a small, private school on the banks of the Hudson" in Scarboro, NY. "We both worked summer jobs to help pay our tuition.

"Their theatre was an exact replica of [Broadway's] Helen Hayes Theatre, which was then the Little Theatre. I was lucky enough to play in a couple of Gilbert and Sullivan shows: Iolanthe and Ruggidore. I got my practical experience of show business — raising and lowering the curtain, singing, playing the piano. I'm not self-assured unless a piano's around. It completes me."

I'd read that Krieger was working on a musical version of "Moonstruck," with a book by John Patrick Shanley (who adapted his 1987 screenplay) and lyrics by Susan Birkenhead. "Not at the moment," he claims.

However, he and Birkenhead are working on the score for a musical based on the 1984 film "The Flamingo Kid," which starred Matt Dillon and Richard Crenna, and was directed by Garry Marshall. "The book is by Jim Magruder [Triumph of Love] and Michael Mayer is directing. As soon as [Mayer's show] Spring Awakening opens, we will launch into it big time. We'll have a reading, then a workshop, and we'll do it [on Broadway]."

Does he have a favorite moment in the "Dreamgirls" movie? (Spoiler alert!). Krieger says, "My favorite parts are when Effie goes to visit Marty to get her career going again, and at the end when Curtis realizes the truth about Effie's child."

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As we speak the morning of Dec., 15, the delightful Anika Noni Rose is just back in New York from the Los Angeles premiere of "Dreamgirls" — with openings in Australia (January) and London (February) to come. She acknowledges that promoting the movie around the country and on TV has "been hectic."

On Broadway, there's just one opening night. "The difference," Rose says, "is that, although you're going to all these things, the performance is done. That's sort of lovely." And her performance was lauded in the Variety review. There's "fine supporting work," it notes, "especially [from] Rose, a bewitching stage performer (Caroline, or Change) who shows equal assurance on film and terrific comic instincts."

Was there any aspect of her character that was difficult to capture? "I really felt that Lorrell was very clear for me. And that's really because of Bill [Condon] and his writing. Reading [the screenplay], I could hear her voice in my mind almost immediately. I connected with her very easily. That doesn't mean that the work was easy, but I could feel her. I didn't have to dig around. Sometimes, you get a script and it's a light character, and you spend your time trying to build her up and create a person where there is none. For Lorrell, I just added spice."

She also had to wear "extraordinary heels. At five-two-and-a-half, amazingly I was the shortest person. I was constantly propped up on heels that were severe, just so I could be seen in the same frame with the [other] ladies." So, as long as she was in camera range, it didn't matter if she fell and broke her neck? "No," jokes Anika with a laugh, "they didn't worry about that — as long as I could be seen on the way down. 'She'll be fine. Just get her some ice.'

"I actually did fall once while we were shooting, but that wasn't because of the heels. It was because we were using these mike cords and the cord wrapped around my foot. I got it off and it wrapped around my toe and Beyoncé's cord was twisted in mine and she was dancing around. I did a slow fall. I think one of the funniest things you can see is somebody falling slowly. They never stopped filming. The extras got quite a kick out of that."

How was working with Eddie Murphy? "He's magnificent. He's very quiet and very professional. He comes to work to work. He and I really connected very early on. We had an open current. That's what you want. You want the electricity to flow back and forth. There was an ease with us that I really enjoyed. A lot of people are talking about his singing and dancing, which is great, but he does some beautiful dramatic stuff that I don't think people have seen from him before. He's very vulnerable, and it's beautiful to look at."

Born in Bloomfield, CT, she's the daughter of John Rose, Jr. (who works for the city of Hartford) and wife Claudia. As a child, Anika wanted to be a veterinarian. "But I don't do well with animals in pain. I cry more than the animals. I'm terrible. They're precious and innocent. If it was a person, you could say, 'Well, that was dumb to ride your bike off that ledge.'"

Of course, veterinarians don't get to attend movie premieres.

"No, they don't," she agrees, laughing.

But they also don't have to wear extraordinarily high heels.

Again laughing, Rose concedes, "Maybe I should have been a veterinarian."

Continues the actress, "Fortunately, I figured out that I could sing and that struck a passion in me that nothing had until that point. I don't remember when I decided that I wanted to be an actress, but I trained in drama [earning a masters degree at the American Conservatory Theater]."

Several productions at ACT and the Berkeley Rep preceded Rose's 1999 arrival in New York. Her Broadway debut was as a replacement in the role of Rusty in Footloose. Shortly thereafter, she had a chance to play the Vatican. "I got a call. 'Would you like to do a concert in Rome [of Leonard Bernstein's Mass]?' I begged the stage manager, 'Please let me go.' That was an amazing, life-changing event. I was in Rome during 'Jubilee 2000.'" She later had the opportunity to do the Mass at Carnegie Hall. "And that was something! It's an extraordinary piece."

Cast as Dorothy in a TV movie-of-the-week version of The Wiz, Rose remembers, "I was so excited. Brian Stokes Mitchell and Sherie Rene Scott were supposed to be in it. I wanted to do it so badly. I went to Tiffany and bought a silver bracelet. I don't do that anymore. Now, I wait until the ink is dry [on a contract] and I've shot a scene before I buy myself anything. A few months went by, and [the project] was postponed. They kept postponing it until they finally called and said that it wasn't going to happen. I was devastated."

People sometimes look at her career "and think that it has been easy for me. Probably compared to somebody else's career, it has been. But it's been work and a struggle and a large amount of time when they hasn't been anything. Ultimately, everything happens for the best. Everything has been a step to something else. Had I done 'The Wiz,' I wouldn't have got Eli's Comin' [an Off-Broadway show comprised of Laura Nyro songs], and with the rest of the cast I got an Obie."

Continued...

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