'Backwards in High Heels' celebrates Ginger Rogers

'Backwards in High Heels' celebrates Ginger Rogers

July 27th, 2012 by Clint Cooper in Chattnow Art

IF YOU GO

What: "Backwards in High Heels."

When: Today-Nov. 2.

Where: Cumberland County Playhouse, 221 Tennessee Ave., Crossville, Tenn.

Admission: $14-$27.

Phone: 931-484-5000.

Website: www.ccplayhouse.com

There apparently was more to Ginger Rogers than met the eye.

She was a Hollywood dancer, singer and actress, for sure, most famously in a series of movies with Fred Astaire, but she also was a trailblazer in demanding fair pay for women and in exerting control over her career.

Starting tonight, Rogers' story -- infused by a complicated relationship with her mother -- will be told at the Cumberland County Playhouse in a relatively new musical, "Backwards in High Heels."

"People who love great, old music and amazing dancing will enjoy this immensely," said John Fionte, the CCP's marketing director. "It's not one of these large, dark, backstage dramas. It's fun. It's a sweet show. It has a lot of heart and phenomenal dancing and choreography."

As a teenager, Rogers won a Charleston dance contest, which allowed her to tour for six months with a traveling vaudeville act. When the tour got to New York, she stayed and made her Broadway debut at age 18. A year later, she was signed to a seven-year movie contract.

Her working relationship with Astaire, which produced nine musical films from 1933 to 1939, led to the famous comment attributed to "Frank and Ernest" cartoonist Bob Thaves.

"Sure he was great," he said of her co-star, "but don't forget Ginger Rogers did everything he did backwards ... and in high heels."

"Backwards in High Heels" is directed and choreographed by Jeremy Benton, who originated the Fred Astaire role in the production's 2007 premiere at a theater in Florida.

His Ginger is Jessica Wockenfuss, described by Fionte as "a delight to watch."

Some of the musical numbers, according to Fionte, are from the movies Rogers made, others from some of the 20th century's greatest composers and still others are original pieces.

"There are times," he said, "when we will be creating moments from films [to be used] in a narrative sense."

The musical is not suggested for small children.