Backwards In High Heels
Broward Stage Door
(June 8 - July 15, 2012)
Directed by Dan Kelley
Choreographed by Yoav Levin
Kelly Skidmore as Ginger & Kate Scott as Lela
Life and art merge in Backwards in High Heels
Stage Door Theatre’s musical showcases a focused, fame-hungry Ginger Rogers.
"Ginger Rogers was an Oscar-winning star who claimed her place in movie history as Fred Astaire’s perfect partner. Through 10 Hollywood musicals, Rogers matched the elegant, suave Astaire with grace, style and energy. She did everything he did, she famously groused, “for half the money, backwards and in high heels.”
Rogers’ rich life story is the subject of Backwards in High Heels, a show created in 2007 at Florida Stage by Lynnette Barkley and Christopher McGovern. The dance-driven stage biography is now at the Stage Door Theatre in Coral Springs, and though simpler in execution, the production delivers thanks largely to the distaff half of its cast.
Director Dan Kelley and choreographer Yoav Levin smoothly convey Rogers’ story, punctuating it with one dazzling dance number after another. Musical director Dave Nagy, bass player Martha Spangler and percussionist Julie Jacobs supply the live music so critical to the give-and-take between singers and musicians. Costume designer Jerry Sturdefant, lighting designer Ardeau Landhuis and Stage Door’s scenic designers largely keep the show’s palette in black, white and grays, appropriate for a star whose movie legacy was captured in black and white.
Determined to become a star, Ginger – played at Stage Door by the radiant, abundantly talented Kelly Skidmore – started dancing on the Orpheum circuit at 15. Before she was 20, she was starring on Broadway opposite Ethel Merman in Girl Crazy. By 1929, she was making movies, and in 1933, she began her rich celluloid partnership with Astaire. In 1941, she won her best actress Oscar for Kitty Foyle, and she became a hugely successful star in movie comedies and dramas in the 1940s.
Rogers less-fulfilling personal life involved five failed marriages and, at least according to McGovern’s take, a love-hate relationship with her mother. At Stage Door, Kate Scott plays Lela as an omnipresent redhead who tries but fails to control her headstrong daughter. The warmth in Scott’s voice as she sings underscores Lela’s feelings of tenderness and pain.
Backwards in High Heels may play a little loose in spots with the facts of a fascinating life. But watching the cast sing and dance to such movie musical classics as Fascinating Rhythm, A Fine Romance, I Got Rhythm, We’re in the Money and Let’s Face the Music and Dance? That’s entertainment."
Kelly Skidmore as Ginger
"Five Stars...A True Original!"
Backwards In High Heels is a Musical Gem!
" 'There are no second places in show biz,' says Ginger Rogers’ mother, Lela, in Backwards in High Heels: The Ginger Musical. But the young Virginia Katherine McMath, who later changed her name to Ginger and borrowed her last name from her stepfather, didn’t need that advice. Even at 15, Virginia was determined to be a star.
Broward Stage Door Theatre in Coral Springs presents a super-energized rendition of the nostalgic musical that follows the life of the other half of the Astaire-Rogers dance duo, from the teenaged Virginia winning a Charleston dance competition that put her on the Orpheum circuit in 1926 to Ginger’s Oscar win in 1940 for a dramatic role in Kitty Foyle. But Backwards also needs something to hang a cornucopia of early 20th century popular songs on, so it builds a story based on Rogers’ personal life: a tug-of-war, love-hate relationship with her mother, failed marriages (five of them), and her fearless managing of her own career.
Backwards had its world premiere in South Florida in 2007 at the now defunct Florida Stage, conceived and developed by Lynnette Barkley and Christopher McGovern. It has been performed around the country since, but Stage Door embraces its tap-happy beat to put on a production that feels genuine to the core. Kelly Skidmore as Ginger is nothing short of spectacular. She glows on stage from the moment she arrives in the opening number with the rest of the company for the rousing Gershwin ditty “Fascinating Rhythm,” which quickly propels the production into high gear.
Then it’s on with the show as the story of young Virginia begins. She’s itching to enter a local Charleston dance competition, but her mother, a former Hollywood scriptwriter who has distaste for Tinseltown, forbids her from going. Headstrong and determined, the teenager just can’t “Tame These Feet.” Skidmore shows her meticulous dancing ability with some snappy choreography by Yoav Levin that has her tap, tap, tapping around every inch of her bedroom, right down to the footboard on her bed for the rollicking second number of the show.
From here, things continue to take off thanks to Dan Kelley’s swift direction that keeps everything moving on point so that the show never misses a beat. Add to that a live orchestra set above the action that adds even more energy. The trio is one of the hardest-working bands seen on a local stage — musical director David Nagy on piano, Martha Spangler contributing rich, deep sound on stand-up bass, and Julie Jacobs keeping time on drums.
Skidmore, in her first starring role at Stage Door (she was previously seen in last year’s Mame and 2010’s Mack and Mabel), commands the stage, acing the ebbs and flows of the part, showing absolute depth as the role gradually moves from innocent ingénue to acerbic demanding star. Just as fetching is Kate Scott as Ginger’s mother, Lela Rogers, who plays the Mama Rose-esque part with a cool confidence. In Act II, her treatment of the ballad “You’ll Never Know” is so perfectly rendered it reveals true heartbreak.
The show calls on the ensemble to wear a number of different hats and there isn’t a weak link in the bunch.
For unlimited comic relief throughout, Nicole Davey has the most fun playing a veritable cast of characters including Ethel Merman who takes on Rogers in a tit-for-tat “I Got Rhythm.” During a party scene, Davey’s quick change ups as Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn are wonderfully defined and comically spot on. She’s equally convincing in drag as Rogers’ Husband No. 4 Jacques Bergerac in one of the show’s most entertaining numbers, Change Partners.
Jake Delaney is dashing as Fred Astaire and certainly has his work cut out for him to keep up with Skidmore, while keeping track of his other ensemble bits. Ryan Patrick Lingle is Rogers’ Husband No. 1 Jack Culpepper dueting with Skidmore in a sweetly harmonious “Embraceable You.” He also plays Jimmy Stewart. Jonathan Van Dyke takes on a number of different roles, too, but he’s a stand out in the tuneful “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” that he shares with the two leading ladies. The black and white set serves as a perfect celluloid inspired backdrop while Jerry Sturdefant’s costumes evoke the glamour of the time period. The costumes are constructed to sway and move in the dance numbers, adding yet another element of beauty to Levin’s stunning choreography.
...There’s no denying it’s a musical gem. Stage Door’s Backwards in High Heels gets five stars for being a true original."
-Florida Theatre On Stage
Boca Critics Pick
Cumberland County Playhouse (July 27 - November 2, 2012)
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Cleveland Playhouse (January 7-30, 2011)
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Scott Schwartz, Christopher McGovern, Patti Colombo,CameronHenderson
San Jose Repertory Theatre (November 24 - December 19, 2010)
Tap Into The Holidays!
"Backwards In High Heels" receives four nominations from the SF Bay Area Critics Circle
"Theater Review: Ginger Rogers dances on air in ‘Backwards in High Heels’
Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, dance on air.
'Backwards in High Heels' may well be one of the most graceful and beautiful musicals I’ve ever seen at the San Jose Repertory Theatre. Ginger Rogers, the flamboyant personality who captured America’s imagination during the golden age of Hollywood, was even dancing before she was born, at least according to her overprotective mother.
A trail blazer, Ginger (then still using her real name “Virginia”) won a Charleston contest in 1925 in her hometown of Fort Worth at age 15, and after successful stops in Chicago, Philly and Broadway headed to the City of Angels, where a contract with RKO would turn her into a star. She won an Academy Award in 1940 for Kitty Foyle (ironically for an against type dramatic role) and by 1945 was the industry’s highest paid star. All told she made 73 (!) “pictures,” but it was her partnership with Astaire that revolutionized the genre.
The uber Madonna/Lady GaGa/Nicole Kidman mash-up of her time, she was also notoriously difficult to work with, perhaps also establishing laying the groundwork for modern day divas that would follow. But in 'Backwards in High Heels', a co-production with Asolo Rep, Arizona Theatre and Cleveland Play House, the dancing and singing are rightfully front and center.
Driven by a superb, charming performance by lead Anna Aimee White, the show moves gracefully from one beautiful dance number to the next. Short scenes in between establish the bond between Ginger and her mother that starts strong (though mother Lela thought the stage name Ginger was perhaps “too loose”) but ebbs and flows as disagreements about her personal life surface. If the production started a little slow and laid back, by the time Fred Astaire (Matthew LaBanca) saunters onto the set, the party shifts into high gear — and Ginger turns blonde. The chemistry between White and LaBanca, as they dance classics such as “Fine Romance” and “Pick Yourself Up,” is irresistible. I admit at feeling somewhat underdressed at this point; the costumes are so elegant that I was reminded of what it meant to be a gentleman in a romantic and stylish era. Of course, there was no shortage of gin either.
The rest of the cast is equally strong. Christianne Tisdale is a hoot as Ethel Merman, the rough-and-tumble star who sings a hilarious number with some cowboys and Ginger, the up-and-comer. Heather Lee as Ginger’s mother Lela captures the magic of her daughter’s rise to fame without over-the-top sentimentality. Benjie Randall and James Patterson are also strong in a number of supporting roles including Bill McMath, George Shaffer, Jack Pulpepper, Hermes Pan and Jimmy Stewart.
A simple black set (Walt Spangler) with surrounding studio lighting rigs helps our imagination soar. A long (very long!) chrome bevelled countertop slides in, and later the stage is awash in gold and sequins, “We’re in the Money.”Costumes (Alejo Vietti) are also top notch as is the lighting (Grant Yeager) which casts clever shadows, notably during the numbers involving Astaire and Roger. Props also to the band (Tim Robertson, Russ Gold, Michael Corner, Andrew Currier, Robin Snyder) and musical director Tim Robertson whose lush sound give the evening punch. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality and tone that the theater was able to channel.
During intermission as I stood in line for a coffee (ok, yes and a cookie again) I asked a couple of women behind me ,who were energetically discussing the first act, what they thought of the show. The voices are terrific one told me, really powerful! Then I asked them if Ether Merman was really like that — gruff and charming at the same time, and if Ginger was really that big a star. They responded emphatically: yes, and yes.
Chalk one up for women that are willful, head strong, and utterly uncontrollable."
Arizona Theatre Company (Tucson: 9/10 - 10/2, 2010; PHOENIX: 10/7 - 10/24, 2010)
A Wistful Look 'Backwards'
"A Tricky Dance Indeed!
The title 'Backwards in High Heels' refers not just literally to Ginger Rogers' dance steps opposite Fred Astaire in a string of classic films, but also figuratively to her road-less-traveled journey through show business. In challenging Hollywood's studio bosses over unequal pay and defying audience expectations (and even her own mother) by starring in a provocative drama without a single tap number (1940's 'Kitty Foyle'), she refused to take the path of least resistance.
The creative team behind Arizona Theatre Company's season opener takes this theme to heart from the musical's first note.
Familiar tunes from the era, including the Gershwin brothers' 'Fascinating Rhythm' and 'Embraceable You,' aren't just an excuse for another big production number, but are deftly deployed to further the story and themes. They also get fresh arrangements as well as four original numbers that fit right in.
Likewise, the polished choreography (tap and ballroom) is finely tuned to the mood onstage, especially in a high-voltage battle of wills between Rogers and Astaire set to 'Let's Call the Whole Thing Off.'
As for the cast, the versatility demanded by this show is awe-inspiring. Starring as Ginger, Anna Aimee White has to portray an evolving relationship with her stage mom, Lela (Heather Lee), from the perspective of a wide-eyed 16-year-old and a tough showbiz veteran - all while singing and dancing her way through almost every number. The four ensemble performers don't get much of a rest either, transitioning among numerous minor characters without missing a beat. Matthew LaBlanca is an endearingly arch Astaire, while Christianne Tisdale steals scenes with impersonations - not quite dead-on, but often hilarious - of Ethel Merman, Katherine Hepburn and Marlena Dietrich.
The artful orchestrations and intricate choreography are consistently impressive...'Backwards in High Heels' is a tricky dance indeed. Fancy footwork and glittering nostalgia are the show's raison d'etre, and there is plenty of both to amuse the audience."
Matthew LaBanca, Anna Aimee White & Benjie Randall
"Nary a Mis-Step!
Dancing backwards in high heels is no easy feat and the musical of the same name about the life and loves of Ginger Rogers arrived at Tucson’s Temple of Music and Art Thursday night with nary a mis-step. “Backwards in High Heels” kicked off the 2010-2011 season of the Arizona Theatre Company with flash, glamour and enough non-stop energy to infuse a year’s supply of Red Bull. The show is nearly as ambitious as its subject and, like Ginger Rogers’ screen persona, is by turns comic and dramatic, vulnerable and strong.It follows Rogers’ career from winning a Charleston contest in 1925 to winning the Academy Award in 1940 for her performance as a “knocked-up shopgirl” in Kitty Foyle. She grows from a mischievous, plucky-little-girl-with-a-dream from Texas into a real leading lady — one of Hollywood’s first to demand equal pay for women and exert control over her work.But on the ATC stage, that serious message happily never gets in the way of the glorious music by the Gershwins, Jerome Kern and the original songs and arrangements by show co-creator Christopher McGovern. “Backwards” never stops moving forward with the spirited and clever dances created by choreographer Patti Colombo. They evoke every ounce of the romance and fun from 1930s musicals as we remember and cherish them. Audiences who come to recapture their own notions and emotions from those innocent times will not be disappointed.
“Backwards in High Heels,” like any truly good musical, requires a hook, a theme, a through-line to keep it from becoming simply a string of songs and dances. Co-creators McGovern and Lynnette Barkley have smartly chosen Rogers’ relationship with her mother, Lela, as the core of their story. As Lela, actress Heather Lee walks a believably fine line as the critical and meddling, yet loving mother who wants the best for her daughter — but refuses to let her grow up. In turn, Ginger must rebel — with men, with career choices that go against Lela’s advice, harboring the frustration and pain that her mother only sees her as “a lucky chorine” who is “nothing if I’m not part of a pair.”
Wisely, the creative team of BIHH does not attempt to re-create the elegant Astaire-Rogers phenomenon that dazzles and delights film fans to this day. Instead, we witness their initial meeting when RKO Studios teamed them up for the first time in “Flying Down to Rio.” As “themselves,” Fred and Ginger immediately get off on the wrong foot then wittily embark on what becomes a musical double entendre lifted from one of their later films, a rendition of “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off. Whew, a good thing nobody did, or we wouldn’t have their ten-movie legacy nor the current production in Tucson to enjoy. Matthew LaBanca as Fred and Anna Aimee White as Ginger allow entry into the subtle dynamic between these two stars who are inseparably linked, and who parted their professional ways with friendship and respect.
Many of Rogers’ real-life issues (her parents’ bitter divorce, her five failed marriages, her strict religious beliefs) are treated frothily in an array of numbers that include the classic songs, “Baby Face,” “Change Partners and Dance,” and an entertaining birthday party scene that allows the universally terrific supporting cast members a chance to shine as various Hollywood stars of the era. Christianne Tisdale is a comedic slam-dunk in her portrayals of Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich. Earlier in the show, Tisdale’s Ethel Merman delivers lessons in show business politics to the young Ginger and reveals her to be an adept pupil. This is accomplished during an athletic “I Got Rhythm” number from the Gershwins’ hit “Girl Crazy” that brought the two divas together on Broadway.
Ultimately, “Backwards in High Heels” is a rock solid production, packed with enough pathos and puff for patrons of any persuasion. The book, the direction, stage design, lighting, costuming, musical direction all combine in homage to an era that bridged vaudeville to Broadway and talking movies.
And delivered with love and care to audiences with a soft spot for a special star."
-The Sierra Vista Herald
" 'Heels' Puts A New Spin On An Icon...
We've all heard her name. Ginger Rogers: the vivacious blonde starlet who danced her way into the heart of classic American movie-musicals. She was also the legendary partner of Fred Astaire and an Academy Award-winning best actress in 1940.
But how many of us know her life story? From now through Oct. 2, the Arizona Theatre Company is offering an entertaining performance about the life and career of Ginger Rogers.
This musical, entitled "Backwards in High Heels," follows Ginger's life from childhood to her eventual rise to fame. The show presents Ginger Rogers as an adorable, talented and ambitious performer who worked hard to make it big in Hollywood. In the words of associate choreographer Cameron Henderson, "She had it in her, she just was going to do it no matter what. She was quite a remarkable lady."
The show is charming and witty - with all the energy and charisma of Ginger herself. "Backwards in High Heels" was written by Christopher McGovern, who creates just enough drama interspersed with smart dialogue and quick-witted jokes. The production keeps an upbeat pace, filled with jazzy musical numbers and clever choreography.
The amount of talent in the show is also impressive. In fact, the entire play is cast with only six actors. The actresses who play Ginger and her mother Lela only take one part, but the other four actors play multiple roles. Despite the double-dipping, each new character is unique and believable. And because of expert costuming, it's nearly impossible to tell that they're the same people. Likewise, the sheer number of costumes is incredible. Ginger alone has over 20 outfits and each piece stays true to the setting of the 1930s and 1940s.
Altogether, the believability and excitement of the play is made possible by a fusion of all the elements. Set, song, dance, choreography, acting, costuming, lighting and writing are all impressive individually. When they come together, the result is creative and entertaining storytelling. "Backwards in High Heels" is a witty reimagining of actual events and people. It offers a fun, relatable show through an old story."
Benjie Randall, Christianne Tisdale, Anna Aimee White, Heather Lee, James Patterson & Matthew LaBanca
"Here we were, all gussied up and looking to be dazzled by Arizona Theatre Company's season opener, 'Backwards in High Heels: The Ginger Musical'. A rousing tribute to Ginger Rogers is long overdue; Fred Astaire may have gotten most of the attention in those RKO pictures in the '30s, but Rogers did everything he did, just 'backwards and in high heels.'
Settling into our seats, we are drawn into the magic of the era by Walt Spangler's set, which puts us backstage at a theater, the shades of gray suggesting the days of those classic, glamorous black-and-white movies. The orchestra revs up George and Ira Gershwin's 'Fascinating Rhythm;' Ginger's image is projected on a huge screen made to resemble a gigantic frame of celluloid; and a three-man company of dancers enters, tap-tap-tapping in a wonderfully energetic welcome to an also-tap-tap-tapping Anna Aimee White as Ginger.
Away we go!
Raised by a mom who had experienced a taste of Hollywood life herself, teenage Virginia was determined to dance her way right out of Texas and into stardom. Feeling that her name suggested more a state than a star, she became "Ginger" after winning a local talent show which launched a touring career. Her talents quickly landed her on Broadway and then propelled her to Hollywood stardom, not only as Astaire's partner, but as a serious actress who won an Oscar for 1940's Kitty Foyle. Determined, hard-working and gutsy enough to stand up to studio bosses, she created an impressive career just as she created a mess of her personal life, with five failed marriages and a love-hate relationship with her mother.
Co-creators Christopher McGovern and Lynnette Barkley, director Scott Schwartz and choreographer Patti Colombo have put together some nifty staging and a skilled and energetic cast. The show looks beautiful. The music—period classics by the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern, with some of McGovern's originals mixed in—is driven by a solid orchestra conducted by Tim Robertson.
Surely there's some fine singing and dancing. Matthew LaBanca, James Patterson, Benjie Randall and Christianne Tisdale constitute a quartet which does the work of a company of 20. They each give us glimpses of a variety of characters whose lives have intersected with Rogers', in ways big or small. They are all skilled performers...and they each contribute their talents to an entertaining mix of song and dance.
And entertainment is what a show like this is really about, right?"
Anna Aimee White
Asolo Repertory Theatre (May 7 - 30, 2010)
Anna Aimee White
Anna Aimee White & Matthew LaBanca
Interview with Director Scott Schwartz & Anna Aimee White (radio)
"Ginger Was Much More Than A Dancer"
" 'Ginger' Dances With Snap!'
On the screen, Ginger Rogers exuded grace, humor and confidence, especially with her most-famous dance partner Fred Astaire. You get to see that buoyant personality, along with a less attractive and harsher side in the high-spirited and light-hearted musical 'Backwards in High Heels: The Ginger Musical.' It’s told in a mostly sprightly and somewhat campy style that becomes darker as Rogers achieves fame and tries to move beyond her films with Astaire. As conceived by Lynette Barkley and Christopher McGovern, the show comes off as a smart movie biography that might have been made in the 1930s by RKO, but with modern twists to allow the blemishes to show.
McGovern’s book cleverly runs through the biography with energetic dances (by Patti Colombo) and musical montages set to carefully chosen songs that speak to the story. Four of Rogers’ five marriages are dispatched during the song 'Change Partners,' and you see her more demanding nature about career choices during 'Let’s Face the Music and Dance,' which begins with the line, 'There may be trouble ahead.'
The show often glows on the charms of Anna Aimee White, who shares Rogers’ graceful aura. White taps, waltzes and sings with ease, and she is well paired with Elizabeth Ward Land, who makes Lela an emotional rock and the most compelling character. There are only four other cast members, but the versatile ensemble makes it seem like dozens. Christianne Tisdale does some marvelous impersonations, including Ethel Merman. Benjie Randall is charming in a number of roles and Craig Waletzko does well as Rogers’ first drunken husband.
The show is staged on Walt Spangler’s Hollywood soundstage set that transforms into a variety of locations, including a lavish and glittery background for a rowdy 'We’re in the Money.' Alejo Vietti’s eye-catching costumes run from humble prints to the gorgeous flowing outfits we remember from all those dance films, and Jeff Croiter’s lighting creates some magic of its own.
Audiences are sure to have fun watching 'Backwards in High Heels!' "
Scott Schwartz, Anna Aimee White & Christopher McGovern
" A Gem of a Show!
Asolo Repertory Theatre’s production of “Backwards in High Heels: The Ginger Musical” — about how Ginger Rogers became a star — will indeed sweep you off your feet. Whether it’s the dancing, singing, acting, a great script or the combined triple-threat talents of an entertaining cast, this original musical is a joy to watch.
“Backwards in High Heels” focuses on Rogers’ journey through the relationship with her mother Lela (Elizabeth Ward Land). Lela, a script writer, is cautious of her daughter’s show biz ambitions, along with her daughter’s choice of men. But that doesn’t slow down Rogers (Anna Aimee White), who crashes and burns on a few occasions, while proving her mother wrong in others. White is very engaging as Rogers and permeates a love for dancing with every step she takes on stage. She plays a range of ages — from the 16-year-old Rogers convincing her mother to let her compete for a Charleston dance competition, to feeling secure dancing with Fred Astaire. The relationship between Lela and Rogers, which has its ups and downs like all mothers and daughters, is what gives this show its heart, thanks to the efforts of White and Land. Land is stellar as the somewhat stern, but loving Lela. She especially shines through the animated 'Baby Face' number.
As the musical, directed by Scott Schwartz and choreographed by Patti Colombo, unfolds, it also becomes apparent that the four-person group of character actors carry much weight with the show. They handle their tasks quite well, from portraying background dancers (Matthew LaBanca, Craig Waletzko, Benjie Randall) and Rogers’ many love interests, to Lew Ayres (Randall) to a spunky Ethel Merman (Christianne Tisdale, who dazzled the opening night crowd with several character roles) and Jack Culpepper (Waletzko). There’s also Fred Astaire (Labanca) and a few other great cameo characters from the era.
“Backwards” features many songs from that era, too, and they are inserted nicely into the storytelling aspect of the musical. They include 'Fascinating Rhythm,' 'Embraceable You,' the sparkly 'We’re in the Money' number, 'Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off' and many more — all performed by a live band in Asolo Rep’s music pit.
With a feel that transports audiences back to 1930s and ’40s, the musical has a simple set design by Walt Spangler that begins with the backstage of a set and transforms into various other scenes, including a dressing room, a kitchen, the set of “Girl Crazy” and more. Alejo Vietti’s costume designs help perfectly capture the era.
This song-and-dance extravaganza is a gem of a show."
" Mother-and-daughter relationships are complicated enough, heaven knows. Throw into the mix the dangerous allure of show business, and get ready for fireworks. Audiences reveling in the song-and-dance bonanza! From the moment we first see Ginger (Anna Aimee White), it’s clear she was born to dance. Her tale might be that of any stagestruck kid growing up in Texas; even in her early teens, she just wants to get up, get out and get famous. It’s a passion her mother (Elizabeth Ward Land) both understands and fears; she knows the pitfalls of the business, but there’s no holding Ginger (born Virginia) back, especially once she wins a local dance contest and gets a taste of vaudeville and life on the road.
Hard-working as Ginger is, she quickly makes it to the Broadway stage with the Gershwins’ Girl Crazy and just as quickly from there to a Hollywood soundstage and a busy film career. But there’s always a price to pay for such success; Ginger’s is a frequently tempestuous relationship with Lela and a revolving door series of husbands (cleverly handled in the 'Change Partners' number of Act II).
There’s in fact much to compliment about the lively staging (by director Scott Schwartz), the choreography (by Patti Colombo, gifted at telling a story in movement), and, of course, the performances. White is as high-spirited and graceful as we always expected Ginger to be from her film persona. There’s a versatile and talented ensemble cast playing a multitude of roles; it’s easy to single out Christianne Tisdale as Ethel Merman and Matthew LaBanca as Astaire, but Benjie Randall and Craig Waletzko deserve praise, too.
So what do we learn from these show biz tales of mothers and daughters? It could be 'don’t put your daughter on the stage'—but what fun would that be?"
" 'Ginger' wonderful early summer fare at Asolo Rep!
The story is of singer/dancer/actress Ginger Rogers
(Anna Aimee White) and her tumultuous relationship with
her mother Lela (Elizabeth Ward Land) and, oh yeah, Fred
Astaire (Matthew LaBanca). It’s a rags-to-riches
presentation. Lela is a single mom after throwing the
alcoholic husband out when Ginger – then Virginia – was
an infant. Lela and Ginger both reminisce about Ginger’s
dancing before she was even born, early dance lessons and
life in rural Texas.
Opening night was about as close to a sellout as seen
at the Asolo. The Sarasota region loves musicals and
dance, especially songs that we all know and love and are
There is a six-piece orchestra with music director
Tim Robertson. The band is in perfect sync with the
Speaking of cast, the six appear to be zillions. Costume changes are what the theatre world calls "quick changes," and this is pretty much nothing but a quick-change show with everybody changing costumes and characters. Kudos to actors Benjie Randall and Craig Waletzko for performing myriad parts. Director Scott Schwartz directed a tight, one-intermission show. Choreographer Patti Columbo nailed the dance routines, from classic ballroom to tap for all. The set is extra special, compliments of Walt Spangler. Be sure to pay attention to the flying props when you go. And lighting is literally spot-on by Jeff Coiter. Spotlights for this dancing/acting production are perfect and work just great.
The production was conceived and developed by Lynnette Barkley and Christopher McGovern. From Sarasota the show will travel to Arizona, New Mexico and Cleveland. Asolo Rep and several other theaters in the region are pushing the envelope by running mainstream productions late in "the season." Tradition always said that after the end of April there were no people in the area to go to a play. Wrong. A full house in early May seems to indicate that people do live here year-round and do want to see some wonderful entertainment: light, insightful, entertaining and explaining just how Ginger Rogers was actually able to dance 'Backwards in High Heels.' "
International City Theatre (LA Premiere)
Anna Aimee White & Matt Bauer
Anna Aimee White & Matt Bauer
“Backwards in High Heels,” now at the International City Theatre, is an ambitious bio-musical about Ginger Rogers that treats Rogers’ life from her early days on the Orpheum circuit to her Oscar-winning turn in “Kitty Foyle. The life of Rogers, a bit of a diva who achieved early success and never looked back, hardly seems super-charged dramatic fare. However, book writer Christopher McGovern, who conceived and developed the musical with Lynnette Barkley and did the original songs and arrangements, largely redresses the limitations of his subject by making “Heels” a love story – not among Rogers and her many husbands, but between Rogers and her indomitable mother, Lela, a sometime Hollywood screenwriter who found her greatest success as a stage mother par excellence. The show features period standards interspersed with McGovern’s terrific new numbers, most notably “But…When?” – an emotion packed song reminiscent of “Rose’s Turn,” delivered from the daughter’s point of view. Music Director Darryl Archibald helms the lively offstage band. As Ginger, perky Anna Aimee White is a facile dancer whose voice alternates between wispiness and a strong belt. Nimble Matt Bauer renders a workmanlike Astaire – no mean feat."
"It must have surprised local theater audiences to hear that Orange County's own FCLO Music Theatre and Long Beach's International City Theatre were both opening "Backwards in High Heels: The Ginger Musical" in February of 2010. Timewise, FCLO beat ICT to the punch by just two weeks in giving the 2007 musical biography of Ginger Rogers its West Coast premiere, leaving ICT to tout its production as the Los Angeles premiere. While FCLO took the epic, cast-of-thousands approach, ICT's staging is nearly minimalist, with Anna Aimee White as Ginger, Heather Lee as her mom, Lela, and just four additional actors eassaying dozens of roles.
Think director caryn desai's decision to scale down Lynnette Barkley and Christopher McGovern's stage version of that Hollywood staple, the biopic, was a fatal one that could never work? Think again. White is fetching as Ginger, who was born Virginia Rogers in July 1911; Lee's Lela is both pragmatic and a worry-wart; and desai's four-person ensemble proves their mettle not only by matching many of White's dance moves but by credibly impersonating numerous Hollywood celebs.
McGovern's libretto doesn't pull any punches in showing how pushy Ginger was willing to be whenever it came to getting what she wanted out of show biz – like going head to head with the head of RKO Pictures in insisting upon her fair share of her movies' profits. Just the same, "Backwards" is a valentine to the screen star who also conquered vaudeville and the world of the legitimate stage, made nine hit films with Fred Astaire in 10 years, then won the Academy Award for best actress for her lead role in "Kitty Foyle," all before the age of 30.
The show's 14 period songs are nicely complemented by four numbers McGovern wrote for the show. His "Tame These Feet" is Ginger's confessional that she's gotta dance no matter what – the spark that drove her to great heights. "The Domesticity" shows just what a mismatch was Ginger and the world of housewivery, while "But ... When?" provides White a powerful, showstopping solo.
In every respect, White is simply sensational, bringing verve and joie de vivre to the role of Ginger. She has not only the same coloring and hairstyle as the star but also bears a general resemblance to her, capturing Rogers' bubbly yet earthy charm, ability to smile while sighing and the soft, faraway look in her eyes. Lee's Lela is thin and haggard, always carping to Ginger about something or other. There are times when the mother-daughter clashes almost seem artificial, as if friction between them were vital to making this story go. Unlike FCLO's version, here Lela is more of a supporting character (albeit an important one) in the Ginger saga. Ensemble members Matt Bauer, Christopher Carothers, Robin De Lano and Jeff Payton have the extraordinary ability to morph in and out of various characters quickly and seamlessly, with De Lano particularly impressive as a forceful Ethel Merman; brassy, bug-eyed Bette Davis; upper-crust New Englander Katharine Hepburn; and cool, aloof Marlene Dietrich. Payton's Jack Culpepper, who winds up as Ginger's husband number one (there were five), is a young leading man type who's likable even when acting like a heel, and Payton is also a folksy Jimmy Stewart and precise Hermes Pan, Astaire's famed movie choreographer.
The Ginger story wouldn't be much without a solid Astaire, and Bauer delivers on the icon's general appearance, soft tenor singing voice and relaxed, good-guy demeanor. He finely captures Astaire's easy grace, effortless movement and ebullient good cheer, to which White responds with effervescence. "Fascinating Rhythm" is only the first of choreographer Melissa Giattino's many outstanding tap-dance sequences, but her work is pleasingly varied (note White and Payton's divine soft-shoe to "Embraceable You"). Musical director Darryl Archibald works wonders with the show's beautiful score while playing piano and conducting the offstage four-man combo. Kim DeShazo's shimmering costumes create a special elegance. Near the top of Act Two, White wears white and Bauer black as Ginger and Fred execute an exquisite, magical dance scene; later, it's White in black, Bauer in white. Stephen Gifford's expansive, Art Deco-design set glows in its silver-screen-like black, white, gray and silver color scheme.
From the moment we first see her, Ginger takes her fate into her own hands. Despite clashes with mom, she lives up to her mother's formula for success: "intelligence, adaptability and talent." To these, Ginger added a couple more: Glamor and common sense.
Show some common sense too, dear readers: Get down to ICT and catch this show before it taps its way out the door later this month."
- Orange County Register
"This enchanting new bio-musical about film star Ginger Rogers (1911–95), conceived by Lynnette Barkley and Christopher McGovern, is like a time-capsule trip to movie musicals of the 1930s and ’40s. The ICT production follows a recent lavish staging of this show by FCLO Music Theatre in Fullerton, and this far more intimate rendition—using a unit set and a cast of six—proves there’s more than one way to bring good material to life.
Emphasizing exuberant song-and-dance sequences, the show is more concerned with vibrant entertainment than incisive biography, covering a relatively brief period in Rogers’ life and career. Yet the warmth of the characterizations lends depth to the proceedings, particularly that of radiant Anna Aimee White in the title role and galvanic Heather Lee as her loving but overbearing stage mother. McGovern’s book generates an intoxicating showbiz atmosphere, and his scenes are smoothly integrated into the musical segments. The score includes unforgettable classics as well as a handful of original McGovern songs, highlighted by Ginger’s stunning 11 o’clock ballad, 'What…Then?'
The four versatile supporting performers smoothly slide in and out of multiple roles. Matt Bauer’s juiciest role is Fred Astaire, Ginger’s famous dance partner in 11 films. Bauer expertly captures the suave sophistication of the legendary movie star, while convincingly channeling Astaire’s legendary dance style, in collaboration with the graceful White. Jeff Payton is likewise superb in several key roles—including Ginger’s boozing first husband, Jack Culpepper; actor Jimmy Stewart; and fey choreographer Hermes Pan. Robin De Lano aces a huge range of characterizations: a belting Ethel Merman, a bitchy Katharine Hepburn, an aloof Bette Davis, and (in drag) Ginger’s fourth husband, Jacques Bergerac. Playing diverse characters—including husband No. 2, Lew Ayres—Christopher Carothers sings and dances with aplomb.
Music director Darryl Archibald leads a splendid five-member combo, and choreographer Melissa Giattino yields stellar results. The handsome visual elements evoke the spirit of old Hollywood. Director Caryn Desai’s production is joyous; you’ll have to resist the temptation to dance in the aisles."
"It’s been said that Ginger Rogers became a star
doing everything her dance partner Fred Astaire could do
… but backwards in high heels. The Oscar-winning
actress-dancer now gets her very own tribute musical,
Lynette Barkley and Charles McGovern’s Backwards In High
Heels, and it’s hard to imagine a better production of
“The Ginger Musical” than the one just opened at Long
Beach’s International City Theatre.
The ICT production gives the four-member ensemble
supporting Anna Aimee White’s Ginger and Heather Lee as
Ginger’s mother Lela the chance to show off their triple
threats in a variety of contexts and roles. For another,
since Backwards In High Heels is a “memory musical,” told
as the reminiscences of its star, a single, gorgeous art
deco set by Stephen Gifford is all that’s needed here,
lit to showy perfection by Jared A. Sayeg.
It helps enormously to have Broadway talent in several of the major roles, most notably the captivating White and the dazzling Lee, and a supporting quartet (Matt Bauer, Christopher Carothers, Robin De Lano, Jeff Payton) who prove every bit their equals.
Then there’s Melissa Giattino’s sensational choreography, which has more taps per minute than probably any musical since 42nd Street, and musical director Darryl Archibald on piano conducting an excellent five-piece backstage orchestra.
All this has been brought together with imagination and flair by director caryn desai to make for two hours of Hollywood glamour and magic.
White and Lee are stellar performers whose talents have been showcased on both coasts, and Broadway and Los Angeles audiences are the winners. The two stars are the very definition of triple threats, the roles of Ginger and Lela giving them a chance to show off all three “chops,” acting, singing, and dancing in equal measure. White effectively transitions from stars-in-her-eyes teen to self-confident film star. Lee combines maternal love and pride with mother-hen protectiveness and some fancy foot moves of her own.
Broadway’s Bauer is principally Fred to White’s Ginger, and with his lithe physique and graceful moves, proves quite convincing as the film legend, as he does in several other roles including the euphemistically dubbed Bugs Berk and Ginger Hubby #3 Jack Briggs. The always excellent Carothers is in equally fine form as Ginger’s dad Jack, who kidnapped her briefly as a baby, producer George Schaeffer and Ginger Hubby #2 Lew Ayers. The sensational De Lano not only gets to be Hubby #4 Jacques Bergerac in male drag, but a bevy of female superstars—Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, and most notably a show-stopping turn as Ethel Merman and her trademark hit “I Got Rhythm.” The splendid Payton is flamboyant choreographer Hermes Pan, Jimmy Stewart, and Ginger Hubby #5 William Marshall.
Backwards In High Heels is manna for movie, musical theater, and nostalgia buffs, but its story of a young girl aspiring to and conquering show business remains as current as TV’s American Idol. My guess is that Miss Rogers herself would be the first to stand up and cheer this tuneful and dance-ful tribute to her life and talents."
-Stage Scene LA
ICT Production, February/March, 2010
Heather Lee & Anna Aimee White
Broadway World Interview with Heather Lee
ICT announces casting
Backwards In High Heels Opens in LA
Long Beach Gazette
Movie Dearest: Glamor Girls in LA
Dancing & Singing Into The Past
Fullerton Civic Light Opera
Melissa Wolfkain & Company in the FCLO production
Cynthia Ferrer & Melissa Wolfkain in the FCLO production
"(Rob) Barron's staging has the epic sweep of any great stage or screen bio, while Helm gleans top-grade vocals from the sizable cast and pleasing sounds from the 10-person pit orchestra.
Yet credit for the show's essentially Hollywood biopic flavor must go to McGovern, who wrote the libretto, created new musical arrangements of the vintage songs and wrote four original numbers: "Domesticity," "Tame These Feet," "But ...When?" and "The Sport of Art." Also at the heart of Barron's staging is Melissa WolfKlain's portrayal of Rogers. While she bears only a slight physical resemblance to the icon, WolfKlain embodies what gave Rogers her screen appeal – the image of the spunky blonde with the big, warm heart. WolfKlain also puts Ginger's driving ambition and unquenchable thirst for recognition on display, along with soft vocals and (naturally) top-notch dancing. Late in the play, her impassioned solo "But ... When?" serves as the character's emotional high point. In what's essentially a co-lead performance, Cynthia Ferrer shines as mom Lela, a stage mother so savvy she makes "Gypsy's" Mama Rose look like a pushover. Having already had a taste of Hollywood as a screenwriter, she is, in effect, like an older, more cynical version of Ginger, and Ferrer captures Lela's zeal, pragmatism and, yes, sentimentality. The production's period look is superbly realized by Mela Hoyt-Haydon's costumes, Dwight Richard Odle's set designs and Donna Ruzika's lighting. The supporting cast members and seven-man, seven-woman ensemble are all sterling singers and dancers, propelling "Backwards" forward to its triumphant conclusion."
-Orange County Register
FLORIDA STAGE (World Premiere)
"We're In The Money" THE COMPANY in the Florida Stage World Premiere Production of
BACKWARDS IN HIGH HEELS
Photo credit: Susan Lerner © 2007
“A fine romance!”
“Timeless toe-tapping, Backwards In High Heels debuts a hit!”
Edge, Ft. Lauderdale
click here for Playbill Online Feature
click here for Edge Fort Lauderdale Feature
OTHER PRESS from the World Premiere Production of
BACKWARDS IN HIGH HEELS
"Don't Miss! More ambitious than previous crowd pleasers, there is a lot to like about Backwards In High Heels – a World Premiere that is virtually sold-out. Amber Stone (as Ginger) is a pert, perky bundle of energy who arrives propelled from her mother’s womb with her tap shoes on, ready to stake her claim in the spotlight. The cleverest conceit of co-creators Lynnette Barkley and Christopher McGovern is raiding the movie musicals Rogers made with Fred Astaire, removing songs from their celluloid context and using them to tell Rogers' history. Even better is when the RKO scores come up short and McGovern feels compelled to write original songs for three spots in the show. Early on, teenage, tap-happy Rogers sings of her career aspirations with a kinetic McGovern number called Tame These Feet, so evocative that it is bound to have the audience wondering which Rogers-Astaire movie it comes from. Covering a 34-year swath of Rogers' life to her post-Astaire Hollywood career, Backwards in High Heels moves at a brisk pace, and its energy rarely flags. There is plenty of reason to think that this show will have a substantial life beyond South Florida.”
Palm Beach Post
“Ambitious and original! Ginger Rogers finally gets her due in Backwards In High Heels. The creative team has taken the basic biography of Ginger Rogers and intertwined it with the song and dance routines that made her famous. 'Intelligence, adaptability and talent’ are three essential ingredients to success in show business, she tells us in the first scene, and then she proceeds to demonstrate all three qualities in her character. It’s a wonderful tribute, long overdue on the12th anniversary of the star’s death. “
“Broadway pizzazz! Immaculate…Backwards In High Heels is a perfectly calibrated musical. Heels flies by with the slick efficiency of Rogers’ memorable movies with dance partner Fred Astaire. Original songs by McGovern beautifully compliment standards and prove just as catchy. The acting, song and choreography carve out a result that transcends regional theatre. Don’t be surprised to see Backwards in High Heels coming soon to a movie theatre near you!”
“Utterly delightful…Proving that there is still soul at the bottom of these old showbiz warhorses. Backwards In High Heels immediately begins smacking its audience with big, sloppy nostalgia kisses and it does not let up. The story begins with 15-year-old Ginger tapping madly around her room, (Ginger) cannot help herself – she’s got rhythm! She sings about this, introducing the show’s first Christopher McGovern original – a song called Tame These Feet, which is, to this reviewer’s ears, the equal of any of the score’s better known Gershwin/Berlin/Kern songs. Backwards In High Heels is easily the trickiest and biggest spectacle offered by Florida Stage this season…and it easily succeeds as intended: It’s a pleasant time warp to the Golden Age, when showbiz giants roamed the earth. Backwards In High Heels should delight anybody who misses those days, even if they never lived though them.”
Broward New Times
“An enchanted evening. The assets are piled so high that an audience leaves entertained... Backwards in High Heels, a musical biography of Ginger Rogers, is blessed with terrific choreography, adroit dancers, fluid staging, strong singing… and a score that cherry picks the finest songs from 1930s movie musicals. The greatest underlying asset of the show is choreographer, director and co-creator Lynnette Barkley, whose staging is crisp, dynamic and vibrant. Everybody and everything, including a bed, swirls and glides. Jeremy Doucette's elegant set features a turntable that Barkley seamlessly works into the choreography as dancers step on and off the moving stage. Christopher McGovern has deftly arranged the Gershwin and Berlin standards, provided considerable underscoring and added three songs of his own to allow Ginger to voice doubts and dreams…when the melody is flowing and the tap shoes are chattering away, all is nirvana.”
“High Heels dances to the top! Amber Stone as Rogers is undeniably captivating…loaded with song and dance, often quite cleverly conceived. Embraceable You is deftly arranged as a courtship duet between Rogers and her first husband, the irresponsible Jack Culpepper. McGovern supplies the musical’s showstopper But When?, and (Amber) Stone’s delivery ensures the song accomplishes its goal.”
Palm Beach Daily News
AMBER STONE as GINGER in the Florida Stage World Premiere Production of BACKWARDS IN HIGH HEELS
Photo credit: Sig Bokalders © 2007