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DREAMGIRLS

John Myhre Crafts A 'Dreamgirls' Universe
"Don't care where I'm bound. Got these four wheels Spinnin' round. Me and my two-toned Caddy Gonna blow this town.”

From the beginning, Condon's vision for "Dreamgirls” was a fully realized, grittily real world in which the fable – so infused with the stuff of dreams – could unfold.

"Dreamgirls” was shot on location in and around Los Angeles, in venues including the early vaudevillian Palace Theatre and the Orpheum Theatre and Pasadena's historic Ambassador Auditorium. Filming also took place in the downtown Los Angeles Alexandria Hotel, where location scouts uncovered ornate columns and plasterwork that proved ideal for the '60s-era theaters featured in the film.

"‘Dreamgirls' brings us to a time that signaled massive changes in our music, our culture and our society,” says Myhre. "It's an exciting time to re-create and a wonderful show to reinvent for the screen. The 1960s was also such a great era for design. I thought it would be fun if we could find some of the sense of theatrics in real-world settings.”

In the Palace Theatre, where the balconies are set against the walls prohibitively far from the stage, Myhre had box seats built around the stage to bring the audience closer to the action. Condon, director of photography Tobias Schliessler and the camera crew were therefore able to capture the reactions of the crowds watching the performers.

The Palace itself also yielded a set piece that provided them with a key component in the introduction of James "Thunder” Early – a manually operated lift for transporting props from storage below up to the stage. The special effects team fitted the lift with a motor and allowed Early to rise as if by magic before the star-struck Dreamettes for the first time.

Condon structured the film to be book-ended by two important performances, both taking place at the Detroit Theatre – the talent competition that brings the core characters together for the first time, and the farewell concert of Deena Jones and The Dreams. For both shows, the Palace Theatre stood in for the Detroit Theatre. "We chose not to fix it up,” says Myhre. "The idea is that they could have chosen to do their Farewell Concert at any huge venue in the world. We thought it would be nice if they decided, ‘Hey, it's our final show. Let's do it where we started.' It was nice for the movie to end up at the same place.”

Production constructed sets recreating Miami's opulent Crystal Room and Caesar's Palace on the soundstages of the Los Angeles Center Studios. "It's an escalation of riches, so to speak,” says executive producer Patricia Whitcher, "in terms of the types of audiences that they perform for and the venues they perform in.”

A key set in the production is Curtis' Cadillac dealership, which then transforms into his offices and recording studios. "Curtis made money as a car dealer before turning record producer,” says Myhre. "Dealerships of the period were so theatrical in and of themselves, they lent themselves perfectly to the musical aspects of the film.”

Finding the right period setting for the showroom in contemporary Los Angeles was a challenge Myhre relished. "We drove up and down virtually every business street in town where there still exist brick buildings and lovely old architecture, and an absence of palm trees,” he says: "We found a vacant lot that had a brick building on one side of it, and the real wonder was across the street – a beautiful brick church.”

Myhre and Condon both sensed the presence of a church so close to the birthplace of this music was absolutely truthful to the world they wanted to bring to life. "When we looked at the church, I could just hear Gospel music coming out of it,” Myhre recalls. "I thought, ‘Wow, what a great way to ground the set we're going to build.'”

It took roughly thirty craftsmen two months to construct Curtis' dealersh

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