EFFIE, WE all got pain!” So goes the lyric in “Dreamgirls,” the 1981 Tom Eyen musical loosely based on Diana Ross and the Supremes. The character Effie was based on Flo Ballard, who felt mighty mistreated by “Diana.” After so many false starts, “Dreamgirls” is finally hitting the bigscreen with Jamie Foxx, Beyonce and Eddie Murphy in the cast. In the pivotal, tragic role of Effie — played to Tony-winning acclaim by Jennifer Holliday — there is now Jennifer Hudson, one of last year’s “American Idol” contestants. DreamWorks, the studio bringing the show to the screen in North America (co-financier Paramount has overseas rights), is taking a page from the original Broadway production, and hopes to introduce the musical to a new generation of theatergoers by paying licensing fees for all high schools and colleges to mount productions nationwide. Beyonce says, “I have been performing since the age of nine and I know how music can change the lives of young people. This is a wonderful way to help schools and community groups revive a chapter of theater history.”
I NEVER thought I’d be at a birthday party where the chieftain of Rolling Stone, Jann Wenner, made a toast wearing a yarmulke, noting that someone famous had turned him from straight to gay. This was at Bette Midler’s fabulous 60th birthday party down in Tribeca at what was once a synagogue. Wenner brought down the house, but all the speeches were sensational: Barbara Walters, joking that she’d been gay and has become straight; playwright John Guare, who recited all the historical instances of happenings on the date Dec. 1; and Ahmet Ertegun, who hilariously recited how he “discovered” Bette. Bette sat between her daughter, Sophie, and her husband, Martin Von Haselberg, with tears running down her cheeks as two beautiful hula dancers did their authentic stuff. (Bette was born in Hawaii and does a graceful hula herself!) Great talents suddenly appeared to entertain — Martin himself doing his balloon number, Tony winner Christine Ebersole singing “I Happen to Like New York,” Katie Couric and Rosie O’Donnell in an astounding duet, Lypsinka pretending to be drunk, Nathan Lane doing a special version of the lyric “Isn’t It Rich” with the words “Isn’t She Great?” And four of the remaining Harlettes performed the original “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.
“WHEN I’M invited to parties where they say that big-name stars will appear, I seldom believe in magic. Often those VIP names are used as bait. So imagine how surprised I was when I turned up at the Millennium UN Plaza Hotel for an invite by Dina Merrill and Ted Hartley for the Eugene O’Neill Theater to find that the honorees — Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones — were already there before me. I spent cocktail time and dinner in the River Club with this glamorous and worthy couple and it turned out to be a blast. Michael was his usual intelligent, now all-grown-up self. (He credits the Eugene O’Neill Theater, along with actor Karl Malden, as “the greatest influences on my career.”) Catherine is earthy and fun-loving — a wonderful young woman who just happens to be the most gorgeous star since Ava Gardner and Elizabeth Taylor. The Welsh temptress and Oscar winner for “Chicago” told me how motherhood has transformed her. She says she is perpetually impatient to get home to be with her two children whether it be in California, Wales or Bermuda. Michael and Catherine were on hand to celebrate the venerable O’Neill Theater in Waterford, Conn. Homeland Foundation prexy E. Lisk Wyckoff Jr. gave a $25,000 check to executive director Amy Sullivan. The theater has made a remarkable comeback under her leadership. Those on the receiving end of gratitude were Broadway producers Roger Berlind, Ruth Hendel, Tom Viertel and attorney Floria Lasky.
THE FRIARS CLUB is busy dedicating their dining room to Frank Sinatra. They make it formal Dec. 12 at noon when they celebrate what would have been Old Blue Eyes’ 90th birthday. Bill Boggs presides with rare Sinatra videos, Leroy Neiman shares his memories and Eric Comstock plays Frank’s classics.