Sheryl Lee Ralph, the original "Dreamgirl," is coming to town to preach the ALL CAPS truth about AIDS at Shiloh Temple Church.
In observance of National Black AIDS/HIV Awareness Day, and for one night only, Ralph is staging her one-woman show, "Sometimes I Cry," at the Minneapolis church at 7 p.m. Thursday. Tonight there is a reception for Ralph, at Babalu.
"Right now, sex is turning us out. I NEED TO KNOW why BLACK and BROWN folks CONTINUE to be major league infected by this disease," said Ralph who was shouted all those words in caps. "Forget about going a few continents away to Africa -- RIGHT HERE in AMERICA. I need to know why is it that people over 30 who think they know enough about HIV and AIDS think it doesn't have anything to do with them. They are wrong. I need to know why folks between 15 and 24, who have been hearing about AIDS their WHOLE LIFE, since kindergarten -- why are they taking a major hit with this disease now? WHY? What message are they not GETTING? That's why I created 'Sometime I Cry'; we need a new slant on this disease."
The piece will have that Sheryl Lee Ralph flavor because "I wrote it, I direct it, I produce it, I act it. I do it all. I'm Tyler Perryesque." After a dramatic pause, she added a throaty laugh.
She laughs easily but she's been crying since "back in the '80s when I was on Broadway doing 'Dreamgirls.' It got to the point I couldn't cross one more name out of my phone book, back when folks had such a thing called a phone book, when you would actually write a name in a book. That many people [died]. Folks don't remember what it was like 27 years ago when you could be dancing next to somebody one night, the next night they could be sick or dying. They don't remember what it was like when folks just started dropping dead of a mysterious DISEASE."
One of the first things young and older people don't do before they hop in the sack is have an AIDS test. Oh, and before that, decide the relationship is exclusive. "That's unheard of. Too many folks are dropping it like it's HOT. Getting low shorty. Lo, lo, to the flo, flo, flo," Ralph said, sounding very current with rap lyrics. "We have just lost our minds. We've got work to do. The pamphlets don't work for a lot of young folks. Speeches don't work. But when you touch their hearts, that works."
We talked about many other matters, too.The Broadway program
I told Ralph that I had located my Playbill from when I saw her Broadway performance of "Dreamgirls," playing what is considered the Diana Ross role.
"You know they're collector's items now," she said. "If you don't want yours give it to me 'cause' I don't have one."She likes Obama
After she finishing talking about why she supports Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign, she tells people: "You have been Obamasized." Throaty laugh. "I Obamasize them!"
"We always hoped there would be a time like this when young people could vote their hearts, what they believe."Cooled on the Clintons
"It's interesting how in desperate times people cannot help but show you who they are," said Ralph. "The Clintons showed you exactly who they are. [In South Carolina we got] our feelings hurt. It was a little heartbreaking. Let me tell you, I worked so hard on [Bill Clinton's presidential] campaign. So much so that the people I brought to the campaign ended up sleeping in the White House. All I got was a presidential box of M&M's and an invitation to roll eggs on White House lawn. Hey, it's real, girl. You think I make up stuff like that?"A leg up in Minneapolis
"I did one of my very first jobs EVER in Minneapolis-St. Paul. When Hanes, the stockings, decided they were going to go with a black face. I shot my first print ad for Hanes panty hose in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Yeah!"Nightmare dudes
None of the male leads in "Dreamgirls," the movie, were as handsome as Ben Harney, Ralph's love interest in the Broadway production.
"Do you remember when Ben Harney came out on stage? It was as if the lights just opened up and, foom, focused right on him," said Ralph, who was nominated for a Tony while Harney won a Tony for his "Dreamgirls" performance.
"Oh my God, what a beauty he was."
Same cannot be said of Eddie Murphy or Jamie Foxx, neither of whom are dream material. "Especially with that bad wig on," Ralph said of Foxx's character.
The women from "Dreamgirls" the Broadway musical had more control over who their male counterparts were than those poor women in the Jennifer Hudson movie.
"When we did the original piece for Broadway, before it was 'Dreamgirls,' when it was just a workshop, the main women, Loretta [Devine], me, Jennifer [Holliday] we all chose a man that we would work with. Loretta choose Cleavant [Derricks], I chose Obba Babatunde. They [producers] chose Ben Harney. There's a lot behind that piece that people don't know."Holliday vs. Hudson
Jennifer Hudson is a nice kid and a great singer but her version of "I Am Telling You, I'm Not Going" is not in the same league as Jennifer Holliday's.
"Jennifer Holliday sang that song as if she was being ripped out from the inside each and every night," said Ralph.Broadway vs. Movie
The Broadway production was better. Period. And I can be objective about this.
"I can be unbiased and tell you, you are right," said Ralph. "'Dreamgirls' on Broadway was a classic. There was nothing wrong with the movie, it just didn't improve upon it. What they touched, they didn't make shine any better than it shined in its original form. But you know what, I will never turn my back on black folks working. Never. I will never turn my back on empowering a younger generation. In those ways it was great but was it better. No."She loves her Giants.
We were talking about her work on the show "It's a Living," when she made a reference to Super Bowl 2008 MVP Eli Manning.
The producers wanted her to get the job of replacing a blond character. "I was the only person they auditioned. It was like the Super Bowl, they were like, We really want you to get this job but it's a difficult game so you're going to have to pass it like Manning -- PERFECTLY."
Although she lives in L.A. with her husband and kids, Ralph is all about "New York, baby."A Valentine's idea?
I was briefing Ralph on Randy Moss' alleged misstep with a Florida woman, when she interjected: "Talking about real drama. I love the texting drama out of Detroit. I had tell my husband the other day, 'Baby, text me like the mayor of Detroit!'"
Ralph is married to Virginia State Sen. Vincent Hughes. Unfortunately Detroit's mayor was not sending those steaming text messages to his wife.
She does not think Detroit's mayor should lose his job. "Folks have been doing this for quite some time. They didn't throw Clinton out of office, did they? Leave the young brother alone. So he made a mistake a few times."Her son's Sweet 16
Her son Etienne's Sweet 16 party will be featured on MTV's "My Super Sweet 16" but it won't be stupid or ridiculous.
"He wrote them and he suggested that MTV change the way they portray teenagers in America because right about now we were all looking stupid. They asked how he would do his party different and he said, I would party with a purpose. He did a whole AIDS benefit and adopted a young orphan in South Africa.
"Hey, listen, my daughter's not bad either," said Ralph of 13-year-old Coco. "A young man called her a 'ho' and she got all of her girlfriends together and said, We've got to teach him a lesson, 'cause 'ho' is not my name. I was like, 'Oh my goodness, Mommy doesn't have to get on the phone, you handled your business. Nice. I don't have to call anybody's Momma and say, Could you talk to your son?'"
Sounds like both kids are empowered by the love of their mom.
C.J. is at 612.332.TIPS or firstname.lastname@example.org. E-mailers, please state a subject -- "Hello" doesn't count. Attachments are not opened, so don't even try. More of her attitude can be seen on FOX 9 Thursday mornings.