International City Theatre opens its 25th, Silver Jubilee Season with the Los Angeles premiere of a new musical about Silver Screen legend Ginger Rogers. Backwards in High Heels, conceived and developed by Lynnette Barkley and Christopher McGovern, tap dances its way onto ICT's stage at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, directed by caryn desai, with musical direction by Darryl Archibald and choreography by Melissa Giattino. Performances take place February 26 through March 21 at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center.
Funny, moving, and a visual feast, Backwards in High Heels broke box office records in its world premiere production at Florida Stage. Combining original songs by Christopher McGovern with vintage movie musical numbers like "Fascinatin' Rhythm," "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," "Embraceable You," and "A Fine Romance," the musical is a toe-tapping account of the public and private life of the actress best known as Fred Astaire's dance partner. What many don't know is that Ginger Rogers walked away from her partnership with Astaire at the peak of its success, going on to become an acclaimed actress as well as one of the industry's first women to demand equal pay. The story follows Rogers from the time she arrived in Hollywood as a 14-year old aspiring starlet through 1940, when the 37-year-old actress won the Academy Award for Best Actress for the film Kitty Foyle.
Starring in the title role is Anna Aimee White (Garry Marshall's Happy Days; member of the Troubadour Theatre Company. Reprise: Babes In Arms, original cast member, 2007 revival of Grease on Broadway). Heather Lee (Tessie Tura in the Broadway revival of Gypsy, Adelaide in Broadway's Guys and Dolls; LADCC nominee for No Way to Treat a Lady at the Colony) portrays her mother, Lela Rogers, a driving force in Ginger's life and career with whom the actress was deeply bonded in a complex, perhaps symbiotic, relationship. Playing a variety of roles are Matt Bauer (Broadway's Gypsy with Bernadette Peters and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with John Lithgow) as Fred Astaire and Ginger's third husband, Jack Briggs; Christopher Carothers (ICT's Five Course Love; national tours: Les Miserables, Grease, Jesus Christ Superstar), as Ginger's father and second husband Lew Ayres; Jeff Payton (Radio City Christmas Spectacular; The Picture of Dorian Gray; A Chorus Line directed by Baayork Lee) as Hermes Pan, Jimmy Stewart, and first husband Jack Culpepper; and Robin De Lano (Cesar y Ruben, directed by Ed Begley, Jr;Garland Award nominee for Closer Than Ever) as Ethel Merman, Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn and Marlene Deitrich.
Barkley grew up watching Ginger Rogers movies back when the films were a staple of late night television. For Backwards in High Heels, she meticulously researched the star's life as well as her films.
"It turns out there were two constants in Ginger's life: dance and her mom," said Barkley, who will be coming to Long Beach with McGovern for the opening at ICT. "Show business was Lela's life, and she ended up doing it until she was in her eighties."
"Before I did all of the research, I didn't realize that Ginger Rogers was married and divorced five times," Barkley continued. "Another thing I discovered was that Fred and Ginger went on a date many years before they became Hollywood's favorite movie couple, while they were both still working in vaudeville. But Ginger's mother took her to Hollywood the very next day... so that was the end of that."
"One of the most iconic images of Ginger is when she was dancing with Fred Astaire wearing a giant white feathered headdress and white gown," Barkley concluded. "We want to capture some of that magic."
For reservations and information, call the ICT Box Office at 562-436-4610 or go to www.InternationalCityTheatre.org.