Dreamgirls the Musical

Dreamgirls: A Timeline

Dreamgirls opens in Leeds on Tuesday 21 June, but do you know the history behind the multi-award winning musical?

Written by Ellen Carnazza.

Dreamgirls: A Timeline


Popular actress and singer Nell Carter appears in the play The Dirtiest Show in Town. Her performance inspired the playwright Tom Eyen and composer Henry Krieger to craft a musical about black back-up singers, which was originally called One Night Only and then given the working title of Project #9. The project was shelved after Carter departed to appear in the soap opera Ryan’s Hope in 1978.


The project is brought back to the table after catching the interest of director Michael Bennett, then in the midst of his success with A Chorus Line. Ralph and Devine returned, and Bennett had Eyen, who was to direct, begin workshopping Big Dreams, as the musical was now known. Joining the cast was twenty-year-old gospel singer Jennifer Holliday as Carter’s replacement.

20 December 1981

Dreamgirls premiered on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre. It ran for four years with 1,521 performances. It proved to be a star-making vehicle for several of its performers, particularly Holliday, whose performance as Effie received significant praise.


Holliday’s recording of Effie’s solo And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going was a Number One single on the Billboard R&B charts in 1982. The cast recording won two Grammy awards, Best Musical Album and Best Vocal Performance for Jennifer Holliday’s And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.


Dreamgirls tours the US for the next 3 decades. Many new and rising stars take the role of Effie such as the American Idol contestant Frenchie Davis.


The Rights to Dreamgirls are leased to DreamWorks SKG in 2004. Oscar-nominated Bill Condon (Chicago, 2002) adapts the Broadway show for the screen.

25 December 2006

Dreamgirls was released in cinemas. Four new songs were added and a number of changes were made to the story as well, including the additions of more overt references to The Supremes and Motown, the death of Jimmy (who is found dead on the road after a heroin overdose), and the relocation of the story’s main setting from Chicago to Detroit.

With a production cost of $80 million, Dreamgirls is the most expensive film to feature an all African American-starring cast in American cinema history.

Upon its release, the film garnered positive reviews from critics, and earned $154 million at the international box office.

Dreamgirls also received a number of accolades, including three awards at the 64th Golden Globe Awards ceremony (including the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy), and two Oscars at the 79th Academy Awards (including Best Actress for Jennifer Hudson).

Listen, written for the film, became a worldwide hit for Beyoncé and, along with And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going and One Night Only, is perennially popular with hopefuls on American Idol, The X Factor and The Voice.

February 2016

Dreamgirls premiered on the West End at The Savoy Theatre with Amber Riley taking on the role of Effie White, winning her the 2017 Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical.

December 2021

First ever tour of UK & Ireland Dreamgirls opens (having been delayed since 2020 due to the closure of theatres during the coronavirus pandemic).

June 2022 

Dreamgirls arrives at Leeds Grand Theatre! See the show for yourself from Tuesday 21 June to Saturday 9 July.

Buy tickets now