Thursday, March 11, 2010

Backwards in High Heels Dances into ICT

Backwards in High Heels

“My mother told me I was dancing before I was born. She could feel my toes tapping wildly inside her for months.” Ginger Rogers

So begins Backwards in High Heels, International City Theatre’s musical bio of the incomparable Ginger Rogers. caryn desai directs this opening show of ICT’s 25th Anniversary Season, now running through March 21st. Musical direction is by Darryl Archibald.

Backwards in High Heels focuses on the earlier years of Ginger’s career, from her initial prize-winning Texas State Charleston Championship performance at the age of fourteen, through the Hollywood Silver Screen musicals in which she appeared with Fred Astaire, and ending with her Academy Award for Kitty Foyle in 1940.

Along the way, Ginger (Anna Aimee White) meets and marries five husbands, rebels against her mother Lela (Heather Lee), and becomes the highest paid female performer in Hollywood. Not an easy feat in the 1940s.

ICT's production of Backwards in High Heels is staged with a small cast, and while the writing is light on dramatic content, it easily showcases Ginger Roger’s amazing talent as a dancer. Melissa Giattino’s choreography is the sparkling highlight of the show as, one after another, numbers like Fascinating Rhythm, Tame These Feet and We’re in the Money come to life onstage. And when Rogers finally meets Fred Astaire (Matt Bauer) in the second act, we see their magical onscreen chemistry ignite. Both White and Bauer are accomplished dancers, and as expected, bring a bright, joyful energy to the show.

One of the unexpected highlights was an absolutely beautiful staging of Embraceable You by Ginger and Jack Culpepper (also played by Bauer) – a delicately gentle, graceful moment in the show that was a delightful surprise.

In addition to White and Bauer, Heather Lee, as Ginger’s mother Lela, gives a steady, grounded performance that allows the audience insight into the somewhat complicated mother/daughter relationship. The rest of the cast includes Robin De Lano, Christopher Carothers and Jeff Payton, all skillfully handling multiple roles.

Up-and-comer De Lano takes her turn portraying a number of high profile actresses including Kate Hepburn, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich and an outstanding Ethel Merman - singing the Gershwin favorite, I Got Rhythm from Girl Crazy. How delicious it would have been to have seen Merman and Rogers actually working on the film that would ultimately make them both stars. One can only imagine the backstage rehearsal antics.

Stephen Gifford’s gorgeous ballroom set, Jared A. Sayeg’s cool, transparent lighting and Kim DeShazo’s stunning costumes tie it all together with a big, glamorous 1940s bow.

Backwards in High Heels runs through March 21st at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd. For more information visit


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