With sold out shows, chart-topping single and six Tony awards collected out of the 13 nominations, it’s safe to say that the production was must-see in the ‘80s. And Ralph was in the center of it all, playing the lead singer of an African-American girl group in the ‘60s in a story rumored for three decades to be inspired by The Supremes and its lead singer Diana Ross.
In an interview for “Oprah: Where Are They Now?” Ralph reminisces over “Dreamgirls” as she revealed that the play’s writer, Tom Eyen was focused on casting three African-American women as a singing trio.
“He cast specifically, but he was always very clear: He said, ‘If you play Diana Ross, they will sue us,'” Ralph said.
Despite Eyen’s intentions, talk of “Dreamgirls” being based on the story of The Supremes was too good for Ross to pass up. According to a Broadway urban legend, Ross snuck in to the theater where the play was held and watched “Dreamgirls” incognito.
“There was a rumor that she would come in — shrouded, dark glasses — and sat in the back… and wasn’t happy,” said Ralph, who admitted that she never met Ross until, as fate would have it, she ran in to the singing legend during lunch one winter at Sardi’s restaurant.
“Who breezes in like a warm breeze of summer in the middle of winter? Diana Ross,” Ralph said.
Ralph then walked over to introduce herself to Ross. The result was less epic than she thought.
“I say, ‘Miss Ross… I’m Sheryl Lee–‘ and she says, ‘Ralph. I know who you are,'” Ralph deadpans.
Ross’ response resulted in a quick turnaround for Ralph, who ended up back at her table. The entertainer’s agent ultimately went in to damage control mode upon , offering his sympathy over the encounter.
Although their first meeting was a bit icy, Ralph’s next encounter with Ross proved to be much more friendly.
“Years later, I would see her again,” Ralph recalled. “We talked about our children, we talked about life and that was that. I was very happy.”
“Oprah: Where Are They Now?” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on OWN. To see a clip of the show’s interview with Sheryl Lee Ralph, check out the video below: