All posts by Greg Christo

How To Fold and Pack a Backdrop

“Using a backdrop for my show makes scenery a whole lot easier than making my own scenery.  But I have no idea how to fold it back up to fit in the box.”  This is a common comment that we get here at Charles H Stewart.  So, I thought I would reiterate what comes with every backdrop we rent.  Instructions on how to fold and package a backdrop and why we do it this way.

When you open up one of our backdrops, you will see that the box is labelled in Sharpie pen on the ends with the id number and description of the backdrop that is inside the box.  Obviously, the backdrop is also marked with the same information.  You will also notice that the backdrop is wrapped in a plastic bag and that there are loose pieces of cardboard on the top and bottom of the box.  There is also a “How to Fold a Backdrop” instruction sheet and a “Caution: Save Plastic Bag” sheet in the box.  Lastly, on the outside of the box, there will be a plastic pouch.  Inside the pouch are your prepaid UPS return label(s). (In some instances, there will be no pouch with the return labels.  They will be emailed to you if this is the case.)

When you open the box to unfold the backdrop, you need to save all of these pieces for repackaging when you are done.  So save the box, the bag, the cardboard pieces, the instructions, and most importantly, the return labels.  If any of these should be misplaced, no worries.  Any box or bag will do for shipping.  And, we can always send new return shipping labels via email too.  It’s no big deal.

However, what is a big deal is that before you lay out the backdrops for hanging, please, SWEEP THE STAGE!  This keeps the backdrops from getting dirty.  Dirt is very difficult to clean off of scrims, cycloramas, and velours.  Also, make sure that the stage isn’t wet.  Water will also damage the backdrops.

So, you hang the backdrops and have your show.  Now, it’s time to take the backdrops down and pack them up for shipping.  Before you take them down, you have to do one important thing.  SWEEP THE STAGE!  And make sure the stage isn’t wet.  Also, please lay the backdrops on the stage with the painted side up and not face down.  Once again, this prevents the backdrops from getting dirty.

Here’s where those two instruction sheets come in handy.  First, you have to fold a backdrop.  We have a preferred way on how we like the backdrops folded, but we know that there are some very experienced stage hands that do not fold the backdrops the way we prefer.  That’s OK.  As long as it folded neatly and it fits in the box, we’re cool with that (just don’t roll it in a ball and stuff it in the box!).  But we like the backdrops folded accordion style because when the backdrop is folded and placed in the box, we can see the id number right on top for a quick check in especially during our busy season when time isn’t our friend.  Plus, our method is fast and only takes two people.  Basically, while the backdrop is face up on the stage, one person goes to the top corner and one person goes to the bottom corner on the same side.  While crouching down like a catcher, each person reaches out an arm length and pulls the backdrop to the corner.  Repeat this until the backdrop is about two feet wide.  The person at the bottom takes the bottom and folds it up to the top.  Repeat until you see the backdrop taking the shape of the box.

Once you are done folding, wrap it in the plastic bag.  Why?  The plastic bag protects the backdrop from dirt and more importantly dampness just in case the box itself happens to get wet.  If we get a backdrop back damaged due to wetness and it is not wrapped in plastic, then you will be responsible for the damage.  On top of that, if another customer is waiting for the backdrop and we cannot get it to them due to your negligence, then you would be responsible for lost rental charges while the backdrop is being repaired.  Now, this information isn’t meant to scare you.  But it is mentioned to show the importance of packing the backdrops up appropriately.

Before you put the wrapped backdrop in the box, you need to do a couple of things.  First, place one of the cardboard pieces across the bottom of the box with the two instruction sheets.  Second, match up the labelled backdrop with the labelled box.  If you have rented multiple backdrops from us (we’ll call them backdrop # 0001 and # 0002), you want to make sure that backdrop # 0001 is in the box labelled # 0001 and that backdrop # 0002 is in the box labelled # 0002.  Third, after you put the backdrop(s) into the correct box, place the other cardboard piece across the top of the backdrop.  Close and seal the box.  Last, place the UPS return label on the boxes.  In the lower left corner of each return shipping label will be the corresponding backdrop id number.  So again, match the # 0001 label with the # 0001 box and the # 0002 label with the # 0002 box.  Now, you have matched the labelled backdrop with the labelled box and placed the matching return label on the box (# 0001 backdrop is in the # 0001 box with the # 0001 shipping label).  Why is this important?  Because sometimes we ask that you forward our backdrops to different locations.  We will make sure that your UPS return labels are addressed correctly, but if a backdrop is not coming back to Charles H Stewart, we want to make sure that you send the correct backdrop to the correct location.  We do not want you to place backdrop # 0001 inside the # 0002 box and vice versa.  Imagine you receive your backdrop.  You’re expecting backdrop # 0002.  You get the box, and it’s labelled # 0002.  But, you get to the theater on Friday night, open it up, and backdrop # 0001 is in the box.  Not good.  Just match the three numbers even if everything is shipping back to us!

Here are the two instruction sheets that are in each of our backdrop boxes:

 

Based on a True Story

Most Broadway musicals are works of fiction.  However, non-fiction stories make their way to the stage with regularity as well.  Well, at least, they are stories based on a true story.  Some of classics include shows such as Annie Get Your Gun, George M, Fiorello!, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown.  Some others that are classics or yet to be are as follows:

 

Hamilton: An American Musical

Probably, the most popular show presently running, Hamilton: An American Musical is a sung and rapped-through musical about the life of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, with music, lyrics, and book by Lin-Manuel Miranda, inspired by the 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton by historian Ron Chernow (I have read this book!). Notably incorporating hip-hop, rhythm and blues, pop music, soul music, traditional-style show tunes, and the casting of non-white actors as the Founding Fathers and other historical figures, the musical achieved both critical acclaim and box office success.

The musical made its Off-Broadway debut at The Public Theater in February 2015, where its engagement was sold out. The show transferred to Broadway in August 2015 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. On Broadway, it received enthusiastic critical reception and unprecedented advance box office sales. In 2016, Hamilton received a record-setting 16 Tony nominations, winning 11, including Best Musical, and was also the recipient of the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album and the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The prior off-Broadway production of Hamilton won the 2015 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical as well as seven other Drama Desk Awards out of 14 total nominated categories.

 

1776

In keeping with the American Revolution theme, 1776 is a musical with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and a book by Peter Stone. The story is based on the events surrounding the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It dramatizes the efforts of John Adams to persuade his colleagues to vote for American independence and to sign the document.

It premiered on Broadway in 1969, earning warm reviews, and ran for 1,217 performances. The production was nominated for five Tony Awards and won three, including the Tony Award for Best Musical.  In 1972, it was made into a film adaptation and was revived on Broadway in 1997.

 

Evita

So let’s stay on the political front.  Evita is a musical with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice. It concentrates on the life of Argentine political leader Eva Perón, the second wife of Argentine President Juan Perón. The story follows Evita’s early life, rise to power, charity work, and eventual death.

The musical began as a rock opera concept album released in 1976. Its success led to productions in London’s West End in 1978, winning the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical, and on Broadway a year later, where it was the first British musical to receive the Tony Award for Best Musical.

This has been followed by a string of professional tours and worldwide productions and numerous cast albums, as well as a major 1996 film of the musical starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas. The musical was revived in London in 2006, and on Broadway in 2012, and toured the UK again in 2013–14 before running for 55 West End performances at the Dominion Theatre in September–October 2014.

 

Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can is a musical with a libretto by Terrence McNally and a theatrical score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. It follows the story of a con artist named Frank Abagnale Jr.  A majority of the plot is borrowed from the 2002 film of the same name starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, which in turn was based on Abagnale’s 1980 autobiography.  Abagnale lived his life as a former confidence trickster, check forger, and impostor between the ages of 15 and 21.  He became one of the most famous impostors ever, claiming to have assumed no fewer than eight identities, including an airline pilot, a physician, a U.S. Bureau of Prisons agent, and a lawyer. He escaped from police custody twice (once from a taxiing airliner and once from a U.S. federal penitentiary), before he was 21 years old. He served less than five years in prison before starting to work for the federal government.

After a tryout musical performance in Seattle in 2009, Catch Me If You Can opened at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre in April 10, 2011. The production received four Tony Awards nominations, including one for Best Musical, winning Best Actor in a Musical for Norbert Leo Butz.  The show closed on September 4, 2011 after 32 previews and 170 performances.

Animation Adaptation Part 2

Here’s a second installment of animated comics, movies or shows made into musicals.

 

Pokemon

Pokémon Live! was a musical stage show that toured the United States on September 22, 2000 to January 19, 2001 including a run at Radio City Music Hall. Plans for some 2002 performances in the United Kingdom were also made,  but later canceled.  Despite that, Pokémon Live! was invited to perform in Dubai, U.A.E. at Al Mamzar Park in the duration of March 2001, coinciding with the annual Dubai Shopping Festival.  The musical was based on the Pokémon anime series, using similar characters, clothing, and story elements. Approximately 90 minutes in length, it told the story of Ash Ketchum, Misty and Brock as they travel to a contest to win the much sought-after Diamond Badge. The event turns out to be part of a plan by the evil organization Team Rocket and its diabolic leader Giovanni to take over the world. The music of the show consisted of songs previously released on the Pokémon anime soundtracks Pokémon 2BA Master and Totally Pokémon, as well as new songs.

The show was successful, but it was largely ignored by critics. It has never received a video release, even though Pokémon’s official site contained a statement for quite some time implying that such a release would appear.  A cast recording CD of the show, however, had a limited release.

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

To capitalize on the Turtles’ popularity, a concert tour was held in 1990, premiering at Radio City Music Hall on August 17and sponsored by Pizza Hut. The “Coming Out of Their Shells” tour featured live-action turtles playing music as a band (Donatello, keyboards; Leonardo, bass guitar; Raphael, drums and sax; Michelangelo, guitar) on stage around a familiar plotline: April O’Neil is kidnapped by the Shredder, and the turtles have to rescue her. The story had a very Bill-n’-Ted-esque feel, with its theme of the power of rock n’ roll literally defeating the enemy, in the form of the Shredder (who only rapped about how he hates music) trying to eliminate all music. A pay-per-view special highlighting the concert was shown, and a studio album was also released.

 

Tarzan

Tarzan is based on the Walt Disney Animation Studios 1999 film of the same name. The songs are written by Phil Collins with a book by David Henry Hwang. The musical mostly follows the plot of the Disney film: Tarzan is raised by gorillas, meets Jane, a young English naturalist, and falls in love. Jane’s entourage plans to kill the gorillas, and Tarzan’s loyalties are tested.

The musical began previews on Broadway on March 24, 2006, and officially opened at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on May 10, making it the only Disney Theatrical production without an out-of-town tryout. Bob Crowley designed the sets and costumes and directed the original Broadway production; choreography was by Meryl Tankard and lighting by Natasha Katz.  Danton Burroughs, grandson of Edgar Rice Burroughs, attended the opening night party, as did Phil Collins.  The production was nominated for a Tony award for Best Lighting Design of a Musical (Natasha Katz). But, due to poor ticket sales, the show closed on July 8, 2007 after 35 previews and 486 performances.

 

Anastasia

Anastasia is a musical with music and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, and a book by Terrence McNally.  Based on the 1997 film of the same name, the musical tells the story of the legend of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, which claims that she, in fact, escaped the execution of her family. Anastasia, who appears in the plot as an amnesiac orphan named Anya, hopes to find some trace of her family, but sides with con men who wish to take advantage of her likeness to the Grand Duchess.

The musical opened on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre on March 23, 2017 in previews and officially on April 24, 2017.  The musical was nominated for the Drama Desk award for Best Musical, among other award nominations.  The production was met with mixed reviews by critics, citing uneven subplots and an overly long running time as primary issues.

Animation Adaptation

We’ve covered movies made into musicals and musicals made into movies.  Another interesting concept that has been quite popular is making animated series or movies into live action shows.  We all know Annie, Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, and Lion King along with Shrek as well.  Here, we will look at some “lesser known” or less successful attempts at live action adaptations from animations.

 

Doonesbury

Garry Trudeau’s comic strip Doonesbury started in 1970. It began following the lives of a group of college students attending the fictional Walden College, though it ultimately became known for its political and social commentary. The strip was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1975, the first daily comic strip to be given that honor.

The characters in the strip had remained perpetually of college age, but in January 1983, Trudeau announced he would take a nearly two-year hiatus from the strip to bring his characters to Broadway. And notably, the musical Doonesbury marked college graduation for his characters. Trudeau set to work writing the book and lyrics, while Elizabeth Swados provided the music. Doonesbury opened on Broadway November 1983 with a cast that included Mark Linn-Baker (You Can’t Take It With You), Gary Beach (The Producers), Lauren Tom (A Chorus Line), and Kate Burton (Present Laughter). The show received mixed notices and closed after 104 performances, but a cast recording preserved the score.

Doonesbury the musical remains important in the history of the Doonesbury comic strip; following the musical adaptation, Trudeau began illustrating his characters aging in near real-time. The Broadway musical was the turning point.

 

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

Bono and The Edge, members of Irish rock super group U2, wrote the music and lyrics for this unique musical. David Campbell worked on the arrangements and Julie Taymor, Glen Berger, and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa wrote the book. The inspiration for this superhero musical came from the original comics by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, first published by Marvel Comics.

The plot follows Spidey’s love for Mary Jane and his rival the Green Goblin. Unfortunately, the set designs and productions the creators had imagined proved to be difficult to produce. There were technical problems and performers were injured on set. At the premiere, there were disruptions, which caused the reviews to be negative.

After the show officially opened in 2011, the response from the critics were still mixed but more positive than after the previews. This musical is the costliest Broadway production ever but also held the top slot on record box office sales after pulling in nearly three million dollars.

In 2012 Spider-Man was nominated for two Tony Awards, one Drama Desk Award, and five Outer Critics Circle Awards winning two of the latter for Outstanding Set Design and Outstanding Costume Design.

 

It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman!

Broadway’s first superhero musical was It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman!, which opened on Broadway in 1966. Superman—or Clark Kent—first took flight in the pages of a comic book in 1933. He made the jump to television with 1952’s Adventures of Superman, which became extremely popular and ran through 1958. By the time producers decided to adapt the character for a Broadway musical in 1966, Superman had become quite the hot property.

But the musical adaptation of the Superman franchise took quite a different spin on the story of Clark Kent. It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman!, with a score by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams (Bye Bye Birdie) and a book by David Newman and Robert Benton—who would also go on to co-write the screenplays to Superman and Superman II in 1978 and 1980, respectively—found a good deal of campy comedy in the Superman story. The musical dispensed with many well-known Superman characters—most notably Lex Luthor—in favor of new characters created for Broadway. In fact, of the characters in It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman, fans would only recognize Clark Kent/Superman, his love interest Lois Lane, and his boss Perry White.

Despite positive reviews, the original production had only a brief run of 129 performances. A drastically shortened version of the show was presented on TV in 1975, starring Lesley Ann Warren as Lois Lane. The show was revised again in 2010, premiering at Dallas Theater Center with a new book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa who re-introduced elements from the original comic. Ultimately, the show’s biggest success has been the song “You’ve Got Possibilities,” originally sung by Linda Lavin, which broke out and became a standalone hit (and can be seen in the current Broadway revue Prince of Broadway.)

SpongeBob SquarePants

SpongeBob has not yet opened on Broadway, although the musical adaption of this popular Nickelodeon cartoon show began previews on November 6, 2017. The stage adaptation, which tried out in Chicago, features many of the characters from the cartoon, but the story is completely original. The musical tells the story of SpongeBob and his starfish best friend, Patrick, and their efforts to save their underwater city of Bikini Bottom from Armageddon, in the form of an underwater volcano.

Unlike the other musicals on this list, SpongeBob flaunts an extensive list of writers. Kyle Jarrow wrote the book, and the score reflects a compilation of songs by pop and rock artists, including Sara Bareilles, John Legend, Cyndi Lauper, Panic! at the Disco, They Might Be Giants, David Bowie, and more. Tina Landau co-conceived and directed by Tina Landau the production with choreography by Christopher Gattelli.

Fans of the show eagerly anticipating its performances are in luck—the cast recording is now available.

Dancing Movies–Part 3

Here’s one last look into movies using dance as its central theme.

Showgirls

(1995) Starring Elizabeth Berkley and Gina Gershon

Nomi (Elizabeth Berkley) arrives in Las Vegas with only a suitcase and a dream of becoming a top showgirl. She quickly befriends Molly (Gina Ravera), who works at the high-profile Stardust Hotel, and lands a job at a seedy strip club. A chance meeting with Cristal (Gina Gershon), the Stardust’s marquee dancer, and her powerful boyfriend, Zack (Kyle MacLachlan), brings Nomi one step closer to realizing her dream. But, as she ascends to the top, Nomi begins to wonder if it’s all worth it.

Step Up

(2006) Starring Channing Tatum

Tyler Gage (Channing Tatum) has been in and out of trouble for most of his life and after finding himself before the judge again, he is sentenced to 200 hours of community service mopping floors at the Maryland School of the Arts. He quickly catches the eye of Nora (Jenna Dewan), a gifted ballet student, who is trying to use hip-hop moves with her classical routines. After some initial hesitation, Nora convinces Tyler to help her with her dance routines and the sparks fly.  There are 6 movies in this franchise, and nobody knows why…

Breakin’ 2: Electric Bugaloo

(1984) Starring Lucinda Dickey, Adolfo Quinones, and Michael Chambers

Disappointed with her small part in the chorus line of a Los Angeles show, jazz dancer Kelly (Lucinda Dickey) quits and heads home. Her father (John Christy Ewing) disapproves of Kelly’s friendship with street dancers Ozone (Adolfo “Shabba-Doo” Quinones) and Turbo (Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers), and encourages her to pursue an opportunity to perform in Paris. Ignoring his wishes, Kelly teams up with her friends for a break-dancing benefit show to save an endangered community center.

Honey

(2003) Starring Jessica Alba

Honey Daniels (Jessica Alba) dreams of making a name for herself as a hip-hop choreographer. When she’s not busy hitting downtown clubs with her friends, she teaches dance classes at a nearby community center in Harlem, N.Y., as a way to keep kids off the streets. Honey thinks she’s hit the jackpot when she meets a hotshot director (David Moscow) who casts her in one of his music videos. But, when he starts demanding sexual favors from her, Honey makes a decision that will change her life.  You can also check out Honey 2 and 3…

And lastly, if you want a comprehensive history of dance in film—well up until 1985 at least—you might want to check out a documentary film called That’s Dancing.   Iconic figures such as Liza Minnelli, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly lead the viewer through this retrospective of classic dancing numbers throughout the films of the 20th century. From classical ballet to modern dance, the compilation features, clips, and never-before-seen footage from films such as “The Wizard of Oz,” “West Side Story,” and “Singin’ In the Rain.” Mikhail Baryshnikov also appears, commenting on the art of ballet and the responsibilities of the dancer.  And yes, I saw this when I was a kid!

Dancing Movies–Part 2

Continuing our look into movies using dance as the backdrop to the story, here are a few more that capture that theme.  I’ve also noticed that the decade of the 80s really tried to take advantage of the dance vibe producing many classics along the way.

Tap

(1989) Starring Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Jr.

An ex-con just released from jail, Max Washington (Gregory Hines), is a veteran burglar, but he’s also a talented tap dancer. Reuniting with his girlfriend, Amy (Suzzanne Douglas), Max is approached by her father, Little Mo (Sammy Davis Jr.), about a new dance production. Max’s criminal past, in the form of his old buddy, Nicky (Joe Morton), also comes knocking, however, and he must decide between embracing dance and lapsing into his delinquent ways.

 Flashdance

(1983) Starring Jennifer Beals

Alex Owens (Jennifer Beals) is a beautiful young woman who works a day job in a steel mill and dances in a bar at night. When Alex discovers that her handsome boss, Nick Hurley (Michael Nouri), is both interested in her and supportive of her performing career, she renews her efforts to get accepted into a prestigious dance conservatory. Although Alex is frightened of failure, she is cheered on by Nick, as well as by her mentor, former ballet performer Hanna Long (Lilia Skala).

 Breakin’

(1984) Starring Lucinda Dickey, Adolfo Quinones, and Michael Chambers

Kelly (Lucinda Dickey) is a classically trained jazz dancer who’s tired of warding off her amorous teacher and hungry for a new outlet. When she befriends street dancers Ozone (Adolfo “Shabba-Doo” Quinones) and Turbo (Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers), she’s blown away by their unique and original moves. She soon volunteers to help them defeat a rival group of street dancers, learning break-dancing skills along the way and sharing some moves of her own.

Footloose

(1984) Starring Kevin Bacon and John Lithgow

Moving in from Chicago, newcomer Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon) is in shock when he discovers the small Midwestern town he now calls home has made dancing and rock music illegal. As he struggles to fit in, Ren faces an uphill battle to change things. With the help of his new friend, Willard Hewitt (Christopher Penn), and defiant teen Ariel Moore (Lori Singer), he might loosen up this conservative town. But Ariel’s influential father, Reverend Shaw Moore (John Lithgow), stands in the way.

 

Staying Alive

(1985) Starring John Travolta

Six years after his glittering triumph in the disco dance contest of “Saturday Night Fever,” an older and wiser Tony Manero (John Travolta) works as a serious dance teacher in New York City and dreams of making it on Broadway. Manero gets his shot when his girlfriend, Jackie (Cynthia Rhodes), gets him an audition for a daring new show called “Satan’s Alley.” Manero lands a part as a backup dancer and falls back into old habits as he lusts after Broadway bad girl Laura (Finola Hughes).

Lambada

(1990) Starring J Eddie Peck

After a long day of teaching entitled high school students in Beverly Hills, Calif., Kevin Laird (J. Eddie Peck) likes to spend the evening dancing the Lambada at Latin clubs. There, he’s known by the monicker “Blade,” and his libidinous dance moves have made him a local sensation. What’s more, he tutors some of the club’s underprivileged patrons in math. It may all seem innocent enough, but his future is threatened when one of his rich students, Sandy (Melora Hardin), spots him at the club.

Dancing Movies

There have been many movies that centered around dance.  Of course, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly movies ruled the day way back when.  And of course, movie adaptations of Broadway musicals enjoy much success.  However, I want to focus on movies that revolve around dance.  I don’t mean movies that have a lot of dancing in them per se, but movies where dance is the backdrop to the movie—ironically speaking.  I also want to focus on movies that were released post Fred Astaire etc and after the infusion of Broadway adaptations—really anything released in the 70s and beyond.  So here are a few that you might want to check out.  Let me know of any you like that are not on the list:

The Turning Point

(1977) Starring Shirley McLain and Anne Bancroft

Forced to give up ballet after becoming pregnant, Deedee (Shirley MacLaine) moved from New York to Oklahoma to raise a family with her husband (Tom Skerritt).  When her old friend and fellow ballerina, Emma (Anne Bancroft), comes to town with her dance company and invites Deedee’s daughter, Emilia (Leslie Browne), to join, Deedee is both excited for her daughter and nostalgic for her past life as a dancer.  Jealousy and regret rise to the surface as Deedee copes with her buried dreams.

Dirty Dancing

(1987) Starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey

Baby (Jennifer Grey) is one listless summer away from the Peace Corps. Hoping to enjoy her youth while it lasts, she’s disappointed when her summer plans deposit her at a sleepy resort in the Catskills with her parents. Her luck turns around, however, when the resort’s dance instructor, Johnny (Patrick Swayze), enlists Baby as his new partner, and the two fall in love. Baby’s father forbids her from seeing Johnny, but she’s determined to help him perform the last big dance of the summer.

Saturday Night Fever

(1977) Starring John Travolta and Karen Lynn Gorney

Tony Manero (John Travolta) doesn’t have much going for him during the weekdays. He still lives at home and works as a paint store clerk in his Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood. But he lives for the weekends, when he and his friends go to the local disco and dance the night away. When a big dance competition is announced, he wrangles the beautiful and talented Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney) to be his partner. As the two train for the big night, they start to fall for each other as well.

Black Swan

(2010) Starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis

Nina (Natalie Portman) is a ballerina whose passion for the dance rules every facet of her life. When the company’s artistic director decides to replace his prima ballerina for their opening production of “Swan Lake,” Nina is his first choice. She has competition in newcomer Lily (Mila Kunis) however. While Nina is perfect for the role of the White Swan, Lily personifies the Black Swan. As rivalry between the two dancers transforms into a twisted friendship, Nina’s dark side begins to emerge.

White Nights

(1985) Starring Gregory Hines, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Helen Mirren and Isabella Rosselini

When his plane makes an emergency landing in Siberia, ballet dancer Nikolai Rodchenko (Mikhail Baryshnikov) is recognized as a defector and brought into custody. Returned to Leningrad and reunited with his former love, aging prima ballerina Galina Ivanova (Helen Mirren), Nikolai meets American dancer Raymond Greenwood (Gregory Hines), who defected to the Soviet Union during the Vietnam War but has secretly grown disenchanted. Together, they plot an escape to the American consulate and freedom.

Beat Street

(1984) Starring Guy Davis and Rae Dawn Chong

At the forefront of early hip-hop culture, DJ Kenny Kirkland (Guy Davis), his B-boy brother, Lee (Robert Taylor), and graffiti artist Ramon (John Chardiet) all have hopes of showcasing their talents outside the confines of South Bronx, N.Y.  When Tracy Carlson (Rae Dawn Chong), a composer and choreographer, runs into Kirkland and Lee at one of Manhattan’s hottest nightclubs, she offers Lee an opportunity to perform on TV.  However, the crew has a long way to go before achieving their dreams.

Hollywood On Broadway

In an earlier post, we looked at Hollywood actors and actresses who got their start on Broadway.  Today we’re going to look at the reverse–entertainers who started in Hollywood and then tried their hand on stage.

Daniel Radcliffe

Having already received a warm reception from West End theater critics and audiences, Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe arrived on Broadway with the all-important stamp of British approval. Broadway fans and critics embraced the young man as well, and Radcliffe has now officially earned his stripes as a legitimate adult actor with his performances in Equus in 2008 and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in 2011.  In between the two shows, he still needed to complete the Harry Potter series.  But his decision to return to Broadway after filming was a good one.  Apparently, he can dance too!

Katie Holmes

With the stigma of being a Hollywood tabloid darling firmly attached,  Holmes had little chance of winning over Broadway die-hards, and it didn’t help that she couldn’t rise to the level of experienced co-stars John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest, and Patrick Wilson. Lack of critical love notwithstanding, there were no shortage of fans at the stage door each night waiting to get photos of this Hollywood celebrity.  Holmes is best known for playing Joey Potter on six seasons of the popular teen drama Dawson’s Creek in the late ’90s. She made her Broadway debut in the 2008 revival of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons and originated the role of Lorna in Dead Accounts.

Lauren Bacall

Bacall began her career as a model, before making her debut as a leading lady with Humphrey Bogart in the film To Have and Have Not in 1944. She continued in the film noir genre with appearances with Bogart in The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947), and Key Largo (1948), and starred in the romantic comedies How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) with Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable, as well as Designing Woman (1957) with Gregory Peck. She co-starred with John Wayne in his final film, The Shootist (1976), by Wayne’s personal request. Bacall also worked on Broadway in musicals, earning Tony Awards for Applause (1970) and Woman of the Year(1981), which I also saw as a kid!

Denzel Washington

Mostly known as an A lister among A listers in Hollywood, the charismatic film star packed in the crowds and gave them a hell of a performance in this revival of August Wilson’s drama Fences in 2010. Washington did an excellent job of navigating a difficult character, who is initially so likable and funny before he reveals his ugly side.  He will be returning to Broadway in a revival of Eugene O’Neill’s classic work The Iceman Cometh in 2018.

Keifer Sutherland

The young movie star of the Brat Pack era went on to establish himself as a TV action hero with several seasons of 24 and as the President of the United States Tom Kirkman in his current role on the hit TV drama Designated Survivor. But in his Broadway debut in 2011, he co-starred in an ensemble cast of the Broadway revival of That Championship Season, which is a play about a group of guys reflecting on the 20th anniversary of their high school championship basketball season.  Sutherland plays a school principal who’s tired of being small.  Sutherland garnered positive reviews for being the best of the cast, which included Chris Noth, Jim Gaffigan, Jason Patric (his Lost Boys co-star), and Brian Cox.

Broadway Turned Hollywood

The focus of this post will be Hollywood stars who got their start on Broadway.  The list is surprisingly long even though most actors will tell you that doing both film and stage will make you a more well rounded performer.  Here are a few you may recognize.

Jason Alexander
Jason Alexander is probably best known as George Costanza, one of television’s most neurotic characters, but he was already a Broadway star when he landed his iconic role on Seinfeld, which ran from 1989-1998.  He made his Broadway debut starring as Joe in the Stephen Sondheim play Merrily We Roll Along in 1981.  In 1989, he won a Tony for the Jerome Robbins-directed review Broadway.  Even after his success on the small screen, Alexander never forgot his musical theater roots.  He returned  to the stage in 2003. Alexander was cast in a successful run, opposite Martin Short, in the Los Angeles production of Mel Brooks’ The Producers.   Alexander also appeared with Kelsey Grammer in the 2004 musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, playing Jacob Marley to Grammer’s Ebenezer Scrooge.

Meryl Streep
Before her breakout film roles in The Deer Hunter and Manhattan, one of Meryl Streep’s first professional jobs in 1975 was at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwrights Conference during which she acted in five plays over six weeks.  Streep moved to New York City in 1975, and was cast by Joseph Papp in a production of Trelawny of the Wells at the Public Theater, opposite Mandy Patinkin and John Lithgow.  She went on to appear in five more roles in her first year in New York, including in Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival productions of Henry VThe Taming of the Shrew with Raúl Juliá, and Measure for Measure opposite Sam Waterston and John Cazale.  She starred in the musical Happy End on Broadway, and won an Obie for her performance in the off-Broadway play Alice at the Palace.   Unfortunately, she hasn’t been seen on the Great White Way since 1977, but made a memorable turn as the title character in the 2006 revival of Mother Courage and Her Children at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park.  Not that she’s been twiddling her thumbs. She has picked up a whopping 20 Oscar nominations and three awards since.

Taye Diggs
In 1996, Taye Diggs played the (slightly) villainous landlord Benjamin Coffin III in the  debut of Rent.  From there, he has gone from film to theater and back ever since, starting with a role on the soap opera The Guiding Light 1997, starring with Angela Bassett in How Stella Got Her Groove Back in 1998, playing the Bandleader in Rob Marshall’s 2002 movie adaptation of Chicago followed by a stint as Billy Flynn on Broadway later that year.  He played nice guy heartthrob Dr. Sam Bennett on Private Practice alongside fellow Broadway star Audra McDonald from 2007-2013, starred as Harper Stewart in the Best Man movie franchise, and was a lead in the cast of the tv series Murder in the First from 2014-2016.

Sarah Jessica Parker
Before making Manolo Blahnik a household name, the Sex and the City star had a long list of credits that stretch back to her teen years.  Parker and four siblings appeared in a production of The Sound of Music at the outdoor Municipal Theatre (Muny) in St. Louis, Missouri.   She was selected for a role in the new 1977–81 Broadway musical Annie: first in the small role of “July” and then succeeding Andrea McArdle and Shelley Bruce in the lead role of the Depression-era orphan, beginning March 1979.  Parker held the role for a year.  In 1982, Parker was cast as the co-lead of the CBS sitcom Square Pegs. The show lasted just one season.  In the three years that followed, she was cast in four films: the most significant being Footloose in 1984 and 1985’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, co-starring Helen Hunt.  While she hasn’t graced the Great White Way in some time, she starred opposite Blythe Danner in the premiere staging of Amanda Peet’s The Commons of Pensacola Off-Broadway in the fall of 2013 until February 2014.

Jerry Orbach
It would probably surprise millions of Law & Order fans that Orbach, who played curmudgeonly detective Lennie Briscoe for 13 years, was a song and dance man.  Orbach’s professional career began on the New York stage, both on and off-Broadway, where he created roles such as El Gallo in the original off-Broadway run of The Fantasticks (1960) and became the first performer to sing that show’s standard “Try To Remember”;  Billy Flynn in the original Chicago (1975–1977), and Julian Marsh in the original 42nd Street (1980–1985), which I saw as a kid!   Nominated for multiple Tony Awards, Orbach won for his performance as Chuck Baxter in Promises, Promises (1968–1972).  Later in his career, Orbach played supporting roles in films such as Prince of the City (1981), Dirty Dancing (1987), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991) as the voice Lumiere.  He also made frequent guest appearances on television; including a recurring role on Murder, She Wrote (1985–1991) as private detective Harry McGraw.

The Difference Between Scrims, Cycloramas, and Backdrops

What exactly is the difference between a backdrop, scrim, and cyclorama?  These terms are used at times as if they are interchangeable.  That would be incorrect….and confusing to those who do understand the difference.

Scrim: A scrim will look like a solid curtain until you bring up the lighting behind it.  At that point, you will be able to see through it.  Scrims can also change appearance with different lighting techniques.  You can use it for front lighting and projections as well.  Scrims are typically made from what is called a sharkstooth weave, which is considered very durable for a scrim.  (We only carry sharkstooth scrims in black or white for rent).  Some of the other types of scrim are made from gauze and linen, which are much more delicate, but can be used in the same manner.  Scrims can also have painted scenes on them.  For example, a scrim with a forest painted on it can make it appear as people running through the woods.  It’s a simple, dramatic effect.

Cyclorama: A cyclorama–or “cyc” (pronounced “sike”)–is a plain curtain usually used to give the appearance of a “sky”.   Standard cycloramas are light blue in color although they are also made with white or natural muslin.  They are typically front lit with colored lighting to change the appearance of the stage. There’s no real difference between the functionality of the blue or white cyclorama other than the blue will mute colored lighting a little.  Seamless cycloramas are somewhat difficult to find as rentals and expensive to purchase.  A seamless cyclorama is useful for doing shadow effects with back lighting.  The seams will show when back lit, which is why seamless cycloramas are preferred.  Even with front lighting, a seamless cyclorama gives a more uniform appearance.  However, cycloramas with seams are just as effective.

Backdrops: A backdrop is actually a generic term used to refer to several different types of stage curtains including scrims and cycloramas. Most frequently, backdrops are used at the back of the stage or scene.  For our purposes, a backdrop is a hand painted, scenery of various themes.  In essence, we use the term “backdrop” to solely describe our painted scenes.