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‘It Hurts Me to My Heart’: Sheryl Lee Ralph Says She Regrets Selling Her Rights to ‘Dream Girls’ for Only $1, Claims She’s Never Received Payment for Her Work as Deena Jones

Sheryl Lee Ralph still feels the pain of signing a bad contract that cost her her rights to the Broadway sensation “Dreamgirls.”

The musical starred Ralph as Deena Jones, Jennifer Holliday as Effie White and Loretta Devine as Lorell Robinson.

The production debuted in 1981, and was inspired by the Supremes and Motown. It ran for four years and racked up 13 Tony nominations and six wins.

In a new interview for “Way Up with Angela Yee,” the actress cleared up the notion that the bad deal was a result of her not believing in the production’s potential for success. “I, Sheryl Lee, always felt that ‘Dreamgirls’ was gonna be a big hit,” she said.

Sheryl Lee Ralph (Photo: @thesherylleeralph/Instagram.)

“I always felt that, but we were young. I mean, we were what 20 when we started… We were young, and when you’re young and you don’t know a whole lot, back then, you do crazy things like sell away your rights for a dollar,” she continued. “To this day I haven’t gotten a check from the magnificence that is ‘Dreamgirls’ and it hurts me to my heart.”

In a previous interview with Jemele Hill’s “Unbothered” podcast, the “Moesha” matriarch said she, Holliday, and Devine were presented with the contract during rehearsal for the show. While she felt that a lawyer should have reviewed the paperwork, Ralph said they felt pressured to sign in order to live out their dream.

As a result, she never received a memento for her 1982 Tony nomination for Best Actress in a Musical or “Dreamgirls” Grammy nomination for Best Musical Theater Album in 1983.

In 2006, the musical was turned into a movie starring Beyoncé as Deana, Anika Noni Rose as Lorrell and Jennifer Hudson as Effie.

Hudson earned and won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Ralph has previously stated she felt hurt after being excluded from the film. She also said that Beyoncé could have nabbed a win had she been able to coach the singer for the role.

Ralph said the long-running musical “Chorus Line,” which debuted on Broadway in 1975, had a similar contract, but the cast banded together and filed a class-action lawsuit to amend their payout terms. It is a move that Lee and her castmates have not utilized “for whatever reasons.”

When Yee asked if it was too late for the original dream girl to follow suit, Ralph explained, “I don’t know if it’s ever too late, but sometimes I tell you I look back at it and I say I have regained and captured everything the devil took from me!”

At the age of 66, Ralph earned her first career Emmy nomination and win for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy for her role as Barbara Howard on “Abbott Elementary.”

The ABC series and its stars continued to clean up during the 2023 awards season with wins at the SAG Awards and the Golden Globes.

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