STAGE TUBE: WBT's BACKWARDS IN HIGH HEELS
The journey from the 21st Century back to Hollywood's glamourous golden age is an inspiring one when your "tour guides" are the legendary Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire - portrayed by Darien Crago and Jeremy Benton in Westchester Broadway Theatre's production of Lynnette Barkley and Christopher McGovern's Backwards in High Heels: The Ginger Musical, running August 13-September 20.
As the cast, under the leadership of director/choreographer Benton, got into the serious business of rehearsals, videographer/photographer Jake Primmerman was on hand to commemorate the work that goes into bringing the world of the 1930s movie musical to life onstage at WBT. In the accompanying clip, Crago and Benton show off their tap-dancing talents to whet audiences' appetites for the new musical.
WBT's Backwards in High Heels stars Darien Crago as Ginger Rogers and Jeremy Benton as Fred Astaire. Featured are Avital Asuleen, Matt Gibson, Sebastian Goldberg, Ryan Steer, Amy Van Norstrand and Jacob Ben Widmar. Erika Amato stars as Lela Rogers, Ginger's mother.
From my review of Backwards in High Heels at Cumberland County Playhouse in 2012: "You don't have to be a fan of Rogers' films or to know that she helped introduce some of George and Ira Gershwin's most enduring songs, to revel in the confectionary Backwards in High Heels, although certainly by curtain you'll count yourself among her loyal legions. Ginger Rogers' story is uniquely American, universal in its scope and enormously entertaining in its revelatory presentation of her legendary, starry existence-even if book writer (and show creator) Christopher McGovern plays fast and loose with many of the facts, no doubt employing plenty of creative license in order to make Ginger's tale more accessible and engaging.
"It's debatable, though, that you really need anything other than a straightforward retelling of the story of Ginger Rogers' meteoric rise to that peculiarly Hollywoodland stardom that she achieved in order to make her musical more compelling. If anything, it simply muddies up the issues pertaining to the life of one of filmdom's greatest stars.
"McGovern creatively opens and closes the musical with an image that evokes all the glitter and glamor of old Hollywood: the presentation of the Academy Awards in 1941, the year that Ginger Rogers beat out such adversaries as Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Joan Fontaine and Martha Scott for the best actress Oscar for her performance of "knocked-up shopgirl" Kitty Foyle.
"Winning the coveted award (interestingly, this was the first year that the Academy chose to reveal the award winners at the dinner feting them instead of revealing winners in a press release prior to the event) lends further credence to Rogers as a dramatic actress, helping her to move past the lavish movie musicals that helped to make her a star.
"That particular moment in time also provides Backwards in High Heels with the ideal entrée to the deeper story of what propelled Rogers forward in her career pursuits, highlighting the emotional partnership she shared with her mother, Lela, and the complex and sometimes confounding relationship that kept the two women's lives intertwined even years after their deaths (Ginger's ashes were interred in the same cemetery where her mother was buried).
"The mother-daughter relationship between Ginger and Lela Rogers provides the dramatic foundation for Backwards in High Heels and, in retrospect, a more accurate subtitle for the musical could be "The Ginger and Lela Musical." In fact, Lela's story provides as much dramatic fodder for the show as does Ginger's-but make no mistake about it, this is no simple retelling of a stage mother turned monster. Rather, the story of Lela Rogers and her preternaturally talented daughter Virginia, more descriptively, is one of a dynamic, supportive mother working to ensure that her daughter achieves her own dreams. Lela, quite frankly, is the furthest thing from a stereotypical, Medea-like, eating-her-young stage mother that you could imagine, although her story could well be considered a proto-feminist tale."
About the production Westchester Broadway Theatre presents Backwards in High Heels - conceived and developed by Lynnette Barkley and Christopher McGovern, with book, musical arrangements and original songs by McGovern - running August 13-September 20, starring Darien Crago as Ginger Rogers and Jeremy Benton (who also directs and choreographs) as Fred Astaire. Jose Simbulan music directs the show, described as "a toe-tapping, swirling, gliding account of Ginger Rogers' ambitious public and private life."
The musical takes its title from a quote from a 1982 Frank & Ernest cartoon about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers: "Sure he was great, but don't forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he did - backwards and in high heels."
Rogers' career began when the 15-year-old won a Charleston contest in her hometown of Fort Worth, Texas. A mere three years later, she made her Broadway debut and quickly became a star. Ginger was discovered by Hollywood and danced into America's collective heart in a string of 1930s films, partnered with Fred Astaire. Her fame culminated in winning an Oscar for her title role in Kitty Foyle. Along the way, she had tempestuous relationships with producers, co-stars and many husbands - yet none could eclipse nor rival the importance of her relationship with her mother.
A celebration of that charming dame who could dance before she could walk, Backwards in High Heels was conceived and developed in 2007 by Lynette Barkley and Christopher McGovern. The book, musical arrangements and original songs are by McGovern (Lizzie Borden, A Visit to Roswell and many other original songs and musicals.) The show features vintage movie musical numbers like "Fascinatin' Rhythm," "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," "Embraceable You" and "A Fine Romance," as well as original songs to showcase the major events in Ginger Rogers' life.
The musical debuted in 2007 at the Florida Stage in West Palm Beach. The show broke box office records in its World Premiere production and has had numerous heralded performances around the country. Jeremy Benton, who starred in WBT productions of Singin' In The Rain and White Christmas, will direct and choreograph the show. Amy Van Norstrand is assistant choreographer, with musical direction by Jose Simbulan.
About the cast WBT's Backwards in High Heels stars Darien Crago as Ginger Rogers and Jeremy Benton as Fred Astaire. Featured are Avital Asuleen, Erika Amato, Matt Gibson, Sebastian Goldberg, Ryan Steer, Amy Van Norstrand and Jacob Ben Widmar.
About the creative team Set Design is by Steve Loftus, Lighting Design is by Andrew Gmoser, Sound Design is by Jonathan Hatton, Costume Design is by Heidi Giarlo. The Production Stage Manager is Victor Lukas, Properties are by Grumpy Props. Lisa Tiso is the Associate Producer.
About the principals Darien Crago (Ginger Rogers) is truly honored to be portraying this beloved woman. Most recently, she played Peggy in 42nd Street beside Karen Ziemba (The Lex), participated in a workshop of Top Hat (dir/choreo Chris Gattelli), and was in an Irving Berlin tribute with Randy Skinner (92Y). Earlier this year, she performed in two City Center Encores! productions: Lady, Be Good! (tap-dancing alongside Tommy Tune) and Paint Your Wagon (featured pas-de-deux). National Tour: White Christmas. Regional Highlights: World Premiere of Holiday Inn (Goodspeed, Muny), Randy Skinner's Dames at Sea, and Thoroughly Modern Millie (Paper Mill).
Jeremy Benton (Fred Astaire /Director/ Choreographer) Previously on the WBT Stage as Phil Davis in White Christmas and as Don Lockwood in Singin' In The Rain. Recent appearances as Bert in Mary Poppins at the Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma, as Bob Hope in Cagney The Musical - Off Broadway at The York Theatre, in Bless You All! Off-Broadway, playing the "Fred Astaire" track, the national tour of Anything Goes, where he played opposite Rachel York in both the roles of Billy Crocker and Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Broadway: the revival of 42nd Street, performing the role of Billy Lawlor opposite Shirley Jones. Kenneth Gibson in Lyric Theatre's Call Me Madam opposite Beth Leavel. And the world premiere of Backwards In High Heels as Fred Astaire / Associate Choreographer at Florida Stage
To make reservations for Backwards In High Heels at WBT, call (914)-592-2222, or online at www.BroadwayTheatre.com. Group Reservations: Discounts for Groups of 20 or More: Call (914) 592-2225.
Luxury Boxes: Call 592-8730, for private parties of 6 to 22. Enjoy dining and theatre in an elegant private box. Additional features include an expanded dinner menu, hot and cold hors d'oeuvres, private powder room, and Luxury Box reserved parking. Additional cost, call for details.
Ticket Prices Dinner & Show range between $56.00 and $84.00 PLUS TAX depending on the performances chosen. Beverage Service & Gratuities are not included in the ticket price. Discounts are available for children, students, and senior citizens at selected performances.