BWW Reviews: Tap Your Troubles Away with Ginger at Winter Park Playhouse
"Backwards in High Heels," now playing through August 23rd at The Winter Park Playhouse, is as entertaining as it is educational. The story is an account of the transformation of a young girl, Virginia Katherine McMath, into one of the country's best-known dancing idols; you may know her by her pseudonym Ginger Rogers, the bright-eyed teenager with dreams of dancing her way through Broadway, Hollywood, and beyond.
At the center of "Backwards in High Heels" is the relationship between Rogers and her mother, Lela. After a separation, divorce, and being tossed among family, Ginger finally ended up in Texas with Lela. When Ginger sneaks away late one night to enter a dance competition, Lela follows her and waits in the wings. Ginger wins the competition and gets a contract touring on the Orpheum Circuit.
"The Orpheum Circuit!" Unlike that other tough talking Mama we all know, this Mama is much more soft-spoken, and already acheived her succcess in the business, so she has no desire to use Ginger as a vehical for her own career. Mama Rogers was good to Ginger and, despite the initial apprehension, supports Ginger by sharing with her the three keys to success; intelligence, adaptability, and talent.
Tara Snyder as Lela Rogers ties the entire show together as the observer, and main contributor, of her daughters fame. Snyder is poised and encapsulates the wisdom of a "mother knows best" disposition. In the lead role of Ginger Rogers, BambiEllen Fadoul wins the heart of the audience. Could you imagine a more perfect fit to play this legendary icon than an actress with a name like BambiEllen? Obsessed. Fadoul develops Rogers slowly over the evening. From a young girl embodying Rainer Maria Rilke's "I Must", to a five-time divorcee, Fadoul is radiant.
The small and mighty cast of six takes the audience on a journey spanning two decades which includes dozens of characters. The four ensemble members so effortlessly jump into the different characters that the audience is never left guessing, "Who is that again?" Nobody did a better job of this than Katrina Johnson. Her list of characters included big names such as; Ethel Merman, Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, and Marlene Dieterich. Certainly a daunting task to emulate such celebrities to an audience that grew up on these actresses, but Johnson is honest in each of her portrayals.
Roy Allen (Director/Choreographer) keeps Christopher McGovern's extensively expositional book moving; acheived with zestful tap dancing and iconic songs cunningly woven into Gingers story. A disjointed flashback scene in Act One involving Lela and her soon to be ex-husband is the one bit of fat in this show. With a first act that ran nearly 90 minutes, "Backwards in High Heels" feels fresh and enthusiastic.
Linda C Shrrock's costumes and Richard Kuntz wigs were the design highlights of this production. Cathy Colangelo's minimal set with anachronistic pieces was out of place in a fairytale of Hollywood glamor. Christopher Leavy's musical direction brought to life classic George and Ira Gershwin songs like; "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off" and "I Got Rhythm." It is hard to believe a band of three is responsible for producing such a rapturous score.
"Backwards in High Heels" is a feel good show about the stars we still revere today. Which is timely, now living in a civilization where drugs, alcohol, and scandal has become synonymous with hollywood royalty. It is comforting to learn Ginger kept it classy. Even her five failed marriages manage to tell the audience that she was not going to allow any deadbeat get in the way of her dreams. Dreams she achieved tenfold. Looks like her intelligence, adaptability, and talent paid off.
To get tickets to "Backwards in High Heels," visit Winter Park Playhouse's website or call 407-645-0145.