Bringing Ginger and Fred to Cumberland County Playhouse, JEREMY BENTON Dances Through Life
Jeremy Benton has come a long way since he was dancing around in the backyard of his family's home in Springfield, Tennessee. In fact, way back when-before he even had his first dance class with Cherri Coleman at the Springfield School of Classical Dance-for all he knew he might have even created or invented what he later learned was referred to as "tap."
His boyish energy and his constant movement had relegated Jeremy to the backyard to work off some steam and that, of course, is where his love of dance was born. Now, considering he's known in New York City as one of the best tap dancers to ever shuffle off to Buffalo, he laughs at the youthful ignorance that, mixed with unbridled enthusiasm and preternaturally boyish macho bravado, has resulted in his current status: Jeremy Benton, quite simply, is one of musical theater's consummate song-and-dance men.
This summer-when he's not in Oklahoma starring opposite Tony Award winner Beth Leavel in a revival of Irving Berlin's Call Me Madam at the Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma (the cast also includes Steve Blanchard who last we saw as "Pa" Charles Ingalls in the national tour of Little House on the Prairie the Musical)-Benton's been back home in the Volunteer State, directing and choreographing a show that has become very near and dear to him: Backwards in High Heels, The Ginger Rogers Musical. Opening at Crossville's Cumberland County Playhouse on Friday, July 27 (and running through November 2, which includes a performance at the September 2 First Night Honors Gala in Nashville), Backwards in High Heels had its world premiere in 2007 at Florida Stage in West Palm Beach with Benton cast in the pivotal role of Fred Astaire.
Charming and self-effacing, brimming with charisma and polite almost to a fault, Jeremy Benton is an intelligent man, whose probing mind allows him to speak knowingly and authoritatively about a wide variety of subjects-"It's just how my mind works," he admits-but no subject is closer to his heart or more on his mind at present than his work on Backwards in High Heels. The musical production (which features many of the classic songs associated with the ethereally beautiful, yet somehow down-to-earth Ginger Rogers), is created and was developed by Christopher McGovern and Lynnette Barkley.
"Ginger was a trailblazer: She was among the first of Hollywood's leading ladies to demand fair pay and to exert control over her work to a previously unprecedented level," McGovern says.
The story reveals Ginger Rogers' background, the hard work and tenacity she employed throughout the trajectory of her career from virtual unknown to an Oscar-winning actress, along with her legendary on-screen pairing with Fred Astaire. Played by Jessica Wockenfuss at Cumberland County Playhouse, Ginger's tumultuous yet enduring and loving relationship with her mother Lela (played by Playhouse favorite Weslie Webster) provides a great deal of the play's dramatic structure, which is framed with an evocation of one particular event in Rogers' storied life: Accepting the Academy Award for her dramatic performance in Kitty Foyle, a role her mother had urged her to turn down.
McGovern contends that at its heart, Ginger's story centers on her complex relationship with her mother, and it's the universality of that story which makes Backwards in High Heels "relevant to all generations of children, parents and lovers of theatre and the movies."