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Celluloid dreams

Cannes applauds pic's preview

Trying to launch a pic in Cannes can be risky, but the gamble seems to have paid off for Paramount and DreamWorks, when they unveiled 20 minutes of “Dreamgirls” to a rapturous reception.

The 400-seat screening room at the Martinez was populated by journos, international exhibs, studio brass and even some execs from rival studios who were eager to take a peek and saw four musical numbers.

On hand were writer-director Bill Condon; studio execs Jeffrey Katzenberg, Gail Berman and Terry Press; producer Laurence Mark; composer Henry Krieger; and stars Beyonce Knowles, Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Hudson. (Foxx did an Eddie Murphy impersonation to make up for the funnyman’s absence.)

After wooing U.S. audiences and press with early trailers in theaters and a press event in L.A. earlier this year, the studios offered the footage as a preemptive international move, to answer naysayers who still think that musicals and films with black stars may have trouble overseas.

Berman said she’s counting on the cast as the main draw. Beyonce is a worldwide star, and Murphy and Foxx also have big followings.

Condon said that he also sees the cast as key.

“The show opened 25 years ago in New York, but now we have found the people who were born to play these parts at the right age.”

While tuners like “Rent” had trouble finding audiences domestically and overseas, “Chicago” was a big hit. Foxx added that he sees the material crossing over to his audience.

“They talk about the Oscar curse, but I don’t feel it,” he said. “People might wonder (about this film) will it be boring? But you see it and you want to shout and clap. Bill has connected the drama to the music. And thanks to DreamWorks for taking a chance.”

The film is updating the music, bringing on Krieger to pen four new songs for the pic. Krieger composed the Broadway score with lyrics by Tom Eyen (who died in 1991). Various lyricists have added work to the new songs.

“You usually do a nice job on Broadway, and Hollywood says ‘Nice to meet you, we’ll let you know,’ ” Krieger said after the screening. “But (adding the songs) was never to see if I could start over and do it again with this particular property. The producers wanted to retain the same DNA.”

Added numbers include a Beyonce “power ballad” that the studio is looking at as a potential radio hit, and a song by a Jackson 5-type act that has been added as one of the film version’s subplots.

Like the characters in “Dreamgirls” itself, the cast and execs have found themselves at just the beginning of a long roadshow for the pic as it builds buzz into its December opening.

Crix seemed roundly high on the pic, which wrapped six weeks ago, as they milled about afterward, with one mentioning, “This is a film that needs to get the word out. It’s not what you think, it’s really smart. You need to get people excited about this film.”

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