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.

Theater Etiquette

Are you a Broadway theater newcomer? Well, welcome to “the show” and get ready for some amazing theater! Are you nervous about what the proper behavior and attire is for Broadway theatre? Common questions that Broadway first-timers ask are: What is the appropriate attire for the theater? Are refreshments available at the theater? When do I applaud during the performance? Here are just a few of the tips we have for theater etiquette for your next visit to Broadway.

 

  • Dress for a night out. While there is no dress code for Broadway theater, it is not a gym or bar so, therefore, respect the work of the actors by dressing for the occasion.
  • Turn off your phone. Your ringtone or text message buzzing does not “go” with the music of the show.
  • Be quiet and courteous during the show including no talking, unwrapping cough drops, or singing along, even if you know the words!
  • Respect the space of others around you including staying within the boundaries of your seat and keeping your belongings in your area. Many a show has been uncomfortable for audience members if seat neighbors put their feet up or arms stretched out around their chairs.
  • Do not take photos or video of the show. The show is a professional production and should be treated as such.
  • Standing ovations happen often for exceptionally great shows. Feel free to show your love but don’t overdo it by whooping it up or screaming.
  • Save bathroom trips for intermission as the movement of the audience members can distract the actors.

 

If you want more etiquette ideas call Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart at (978) 682-5757 or visit our website at  www.charleshstewart.com for more guidance and stage backdrops that will make your show a hit!

 

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.

Superstitions of the Theater

Do you consider yourself a superstitious person? Do you worry about events that fall on Friday the 13th, or perhaps black cats or stepping on a crack in fear of breaking your mother’s back? If this describes you, then you may fit in well with theater lovers. Historically, there are a number of superstitions that are commonly believed, or at least discussed, when it comes to theater. In fact, you may follow some of these yourself even if you aren’t headed to the theater. For example, have you ever told someone to “break a leg” when they were headed to a big event? That superstitious saying stemmed from the fear of actors hearing “good luck” before a performance believing that evil theater spirits would do the opposite of the words they heard spoken. Let’s take a look at a few other common superstitions that haunt theaters to this day.

 

  • The Ghost Light – Once the lights come on in a theater everything is illuminated and bright, but prior to that time or after the show is over, theaters can be a dark and scary place. The Ghost Light is known today to help guide the first and last person in and out of the theatre, especially in the dark. The ghost light tradition is to leave a single lit bulb upstage center when the theater is empty. Not only is it meant to ward off mischievous specters, but it also allows the stage managers, crewmembers, and actors to find the light switch when entering a vacant theater so that they don’t break their necks while crossing the totally dark stage.
  • Bad Dress Rehearsal, Good OpeningMany stage actors swear that a bad dress rehearsal portends a great opening night. This superstition’s origins are not clear, but maybe a producer or director trying to boost a cast’s morale, but it’s a comforting concept when the final dress goes horribly wrong.
  • Broken Mirror is Bad Luck – We all know of the superstition that breaking a mirror is seven years bad luck. It is believed that breaking a mirror on stage will cause seven years of misfortune for a theatre.  Reflections from mirrors can also be distracting for lights, actors, and audience members.
  • Blue and Silver – It is bad luck to wear the color blue onstage, unless it was countered with something silver. In the earliest days of theater costuming, it was extremely difficult to make blue dye, and thus expensive to purchase. So blue costumes were countered with silver, thus proof of the success of a theater company.

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.

Signs of a Great Stage Manager

In any performance, from the high school level to under the bright lights of Broadway, the stage manager is the glue that holds the show together. This is the person who always knows what’s going on, where it’s happening, and how things are actually progressing. The personality of a stage manager has to be such that he or she can not only deal with the stress of the performance but also the varying personalities of the actors, director, and stage crew. In general, it helps if this person is level-headed, keeps calm under pressure, and is organized. Here are a few more signs that you have a great stage manager working on your show.

 

  • Organized and Prepared – As mentioned above, organization and preplanning is critical to be an effective and successful stage manager. From the first production meeting ‘till the curtain goes down on the final show, the stage manager must be able to juggle multiple schedules from scene blocking, acquisition of props and backdrops, and of course the general running of the show.
  • Knows the Lingo – Any good stage manager must know the lingo of theaters from the stage terms, blocking notes, and of course the cues for every actor and scene change.
  • Excellent Note Takers and Communicators – The stage manager is responsible for pulling together all the parts of the production.  He or she must be able to listen closely during production meetings, learn what needs to be done, and communicate those plans to lighting techs, stage crew, prop masters, and the sound crew so that everyone is on the same page. Without excellent communication, the entire production could go down as an epic fail.
  • The Magic Touch – Stage managers must try to be all things to so many people during a production. One thing that each stage manager should try to do that not all succeed at is making the work fun.

 

If your stage manager is looking for exceptional backdrops for your show, call Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart at (978) 682-5757 or visit our website at  www.charleshstewart.com.

 

Theater Shows that will put you in the Holiday Mood

The wind has started to shift, the temperatures have begun to drop and the leaves are all but gone from the trees. That can only mean one thing – that the holidays are right around the corner! Are you looking for something to put you in the spirit of the season? Then look no further than the lights and sounds of the theaters in your area. Or, better yet, take a trip to New York City to take in all the holiday festivities while you catch a show. No matter whether you find a theater in your region or can travel this season to see a Broadway show, here are a few fan favorites that will get you in the holiday mood.

 

  • Elf – We all know that the best way to way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear. If you are familiar with the movie Elf you will love the 2010 Broadway adaptation that brings a smile to the audience’s faces and puts everyone in a festive mood!
  • A Christmas Carol – For those of you looking for a more traditional Christmas show, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol may do just the trick to get you in the mood.
  • White Christmas – A little singing and dancing, and the magic of old Hollywood should get your toes tapping and heart melting this holiday season. This show usually makes its tour around the holidays, so watch for your local or regional theaters to start offering tickets soon.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss – Generations of children have grown up on Dr. Seuss and now his musical can delight audiences of all ages with the dastardly Grinch on his mission to ruin Christmas, only to learn that his heart can grow and love.
  • The Nutcracker Suite – Escape for the night to a land of dance and sugarplum fairies as you enjoy the Nutcracker Ballet this holiday season. Even children will love the dancing and the larger-than-life characters and Christmas Tree.

 

If your school, theater, or company is putting in a show this holiday season and you need backdrops, call Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart at (978) 682-5757 or visit our website at  www.charleshstewart.com for more guidance and stage backdrops that will make your show a hit!

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.

Prop Flop

Anyone who has any experience with live theater knows that any number of things can go wrong throughout the course of a performance. Murphy’s Law states that, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” No truer words have been spoken, especially when a performance is live and is happening in front of a packed audience. A multitude of things can go awry, (and often do) from a sick actor, to forgotten lines and, of course, the all too common “prop flop.” Let’s take a closer look at when things go terribly wrong on stage and how your show can prevent such occurrences.

 

  • Mislaid Props – Nothing can cause more anxiety than knowing your cue is coming and you have yet to locate the prop that should be carried on stage. Prop Masters or Mistresses should have an organized system of laying out props backstage in the order of appearance in the show as well as by size and practicality of storage.
  • Prop Malfunctions – As the technology of stage productions increases, the probability of a technical malfunction also increases. For example, as reported by The Guardian Theater Blog, the great glass elevator in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane malfunctioned, leaving Douglas Hodge’s Willy Wonka and the child actor playing Charlie stranded – and the performance halted – while they were rescued. Having a technical crew and troubleshooters examine the equipment of more technical shows prior to the curtain going up for each show can help stage crews from having to improvise and problem-solve mid-show.
  • Mistiming of Props  – One of the more common mistakes is the mistiming of a prop being put on stage or being used. For example, sound effects are particularly prone to mistiming, including telephones ringing long after they have been answered and gunshots heard after the actor has fallen to the ground in apparent agony. In this case practice makes perfect and the show will continue – if not for a few giggles from the audience.
  • Broken Props – Also common are props that have been overused and suddenly are found broken or not useable during a performance. Checking all props regularly to be sure they are in good working condition is one of the main tasks of the stage crew and prop master.

 

Don’t let a prop flop happen in your live performance. Call Backdrops by Charles H. Stewart at (978) 682-5757 or visit our website at  www.charleshstewart.com for more guidance and stage backdrops that will make your show a hit!

 

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.