By guest blogger Alex Stewart, Straz Center media relations manager
We’re back with more feel-good movie recommendations from the Straz Center staff. Since you can’t get out of the house to see a show, we’re bringing the shows to you and your couch. We curated another list of our staff’s favorite performing arts flicks, this time highlighting dance and music movies.
So, shove the coffee table out of the way, put on your dancin’ slippers, turn up the volume and get ready to dance your way off that couch and into happiness.
This film takes first place in the “guilty pleasures” category from our staff. Released in 2000 before Step Up, Save the Last Dance or Honey, Center Stage follows a group of young dancers from various backgrounds who enroll at the fictitious American Ballet Academy in New York City. The film explores and showcases the challenges of the world of professional dance.
“It is so completely a 2000 movie and has all the wonderful things that teens of the time craved,” says Audrey Siegler, managing director of theater education at the Patel Conservatory. “Plus, the soundtrack became the go to warm-up mix tape for my dance studio at the time, so those songs are forever embedded in my head.”
Director Nicholas Hytner, who previously directed Miss Saigon and later served as the artistic director for the National Theatre in London from 2003-2015, was adamant about having real dancers in the roles. Amanda Schull (Jody Sawyer), Sascha Radetsky (Charlie), Ethan Stiefel (Cooper Nielson) and Julie Kent (Juliet) are all professional dancers.
“Center Stage was always my favorite dance movie,” says Caitlin Potter, social media manager at The Straz. “I loved the scene at the end where Jody dances in the pop music ballet for the final workshop.”
Kevin Bacon in tight pants. Need I say more? Well, I will, because this 1984 classic is one of the most popular dance movies of all time. Footloose follows Ren, a teen from Chicago, who has just moved to a small Midwest town where dancing and rock and roll music has been banned. Based loosely on true events, Ren and his friends try to overturn the ban so they can dance at their senior prom.
Speaking of Kevin Bacon in tight pants, that was no accident. According to Bacon, his pants were sometimes pinned from behind to make them tighter. The reason was not to make him look sexier, but to make sure you could see the dance moves. Whatever the reason, we’re here for it.
And since you can’t mention the movie Footloose without singing the lyrics to the song, we should mention that Bacon apparently pays DJs not to play it when he goes to parties so people don’t expect him to start dancing.
The Turning Point
Nominated for 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture, The Turning Point stars Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft along with Leslie Brown, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Tom Skerrit in a story centered on the world of ballet in New York City. When DeeDee’s daughter joins the same ballet company that DeeDee left after becoming pregnant, she is forced to confront her decisions that led to the life she now leads. The movie is a fictionalized version of the life of American ballerina Isbabel Mirrow Brown who was a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre.
“It features some of the best ballet sequences ever captured on film,” says Philip Neal, artistic director for Next Generation Ballet and dance chair at the Patel Conservatory. “It’s all about the NYC dance scene in the early 80’s and featured Mikhail Baryshnikov’s film debut. My uncle ran the movie projector in the Richmond theater where it opened. I would leave school and swing by that theater to dance all the steps in the balcony section which wasn’t opened at that afternoon hour. Good times!”
Patrick Swayze in tight pants. I’m sensing a theme here … but tight pants aside, take it from our executive chef at The Straz, Ed Steinhoff, when we asked about his favorite performing arts movie: “It begins and ends with Dirty Dancing because … nobody puts Baby in the corner.”
Dirty Dancing is also loosely based on someone’s real life. Eleanor Bergstein, who wrote and co-produced the film, based a large part of the story on her own childhood. Starring Jennifer Gray as Frances “Baby” Houseman, and Patrick Swayze as Johnny Castle, Dirty Dancing is about a young woman who falls in love with her dance instructor at a summer resort.
Bergstein, who was also called Baby as a girl, is the youngest daughter of a Jewish doctor in New York and spent many summers in the Catskills where she participated in dirty dancing contests. The Catskills might also sound familiar to you if you watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, where Midge and her family spent some time in season two.
Save the Last Dance
Another early 2000s dance film, Save the Last Dance was produced by MTV and stars Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas as an interracial couple in Chicago. Stiles plays an aspiring ballet dancer who works with Thomas on an audition that she hopes will get her into Julliard. The film features an award-winning hip-hop and R&B soundtrack that made it on several Billboard charts.
Save the Last Dance was choreographed by Fatima Roberts, who has worked with everyone from Michael Jackson to the Backstreet Boys. In fact, the chair dance that Sarah (Stiles) and Derek (Thomas) rehearse in the film is the same routine the Backstreet Boys use in “As Long as You Love Me.” And if there’s anything you can learn from this film, it’s how to do a good head bob.
August Rush tells the story of a musically gifted orphan named Evan who runs away to New York City believing the music he hears will lead him to his parents. A sentimental tale, August Rush is about how music brings people together.
The film was scored by Marc Mancina, who’s worked on more than 60 films and television series and was nominated for a Tony for his collaboration on the Broadway musical The Lion King. Mancina spent more than a year and half composing the score for August Rush.
“The movie has one of my favorite quotes,” says Catalina Nieto, digital marketing manager at The Straz. “‘The music is all around us, all you have to do is listen.’ I saw it years ago and it stuck with me thanks to the music.”
Produced by Pixar and released by Disney, Coco is the story of a young boy named Miguel who dreams of becoming an accomplished musician despite his family’s generations-old ban on music. Miguel is accidentally transported to the Land of the Dead where he seeks the help of his great grandfather to return him to the living and overturn his family’s ban on music.
“I like Coco because music wins, and the boy reminds me of myself in his desire to learn guitar,” says Maggie DiPietra, grant writer at The Straz.
Coco took six years to complete, and when you realize the guitar playing you see in the film is authentic, you understand why. As a reference for the guitar playing scenes, animators used videos of musicians who had cameras attached to their guitars. If you watch closely, you’ll see the guitar chords being played match the music you hear.
If you enjoyed the television show Glee, you probably think Pitch Perfect is aca-awesome. The story follows an all-girl a capella group, the Barden Bellas, as they compete against another group from their college to win nationals. The film was a sleeper hit, slowly gaining popularity. Pitch Perfect 2 surpassed the gross of the original film in only five days and eventually became the highest grossing music comedy film of all time.
Even if you somehow haven’t seen any of the Pitch Perfect movies, you probably know “The Cup Song” that Anna Kendrick uses as her audition for the Barden Bellas. Kendrick learned the song from a viral video she found on Reddit. When the producers found out she could do it they decided to put it in the film.
Most of my colleagues know I’m married to an Irish man that I met when I was living abroad in Ireland in 2014. So, when our annual fund manager, Rachel Mentkow, added Sing Street to the list, I was excited that someone else knew and loved this film as much as I do.
“It’s a funny Irish film, and I love how the band adapts several different personas and musical genres for each song,” says Rachel.
Set in Dublin during the recession in the 80s, Sing Street is a musical coming-of-age drama about a boy who starts a band to impress a girl. The film features music from the period as well as several original songs. During each performance, you see the band push their self-expression, adapting an image that fits that particular song’s genre.
Sing Street was directed by John Carney, who also directed Once and Begin Again. (If you haven’t seen Begin Again, do yourself a favor and add that one to the list, too.) Best of all, Sing Street was an off-Broadway success that you can hopefully catch on Broadway when theaters reopen.
Sense and Sensibility
While it might surprise some that a Jane Austen movie is on a list of performing arts movies, Austen was a musician herself who played the piano every day. Music plays an important part in her novels and film adaptations and many of the women in her stories are skilled musicians, often playing the piano as she did.
The 1995 film stars Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Kate Winslet and Hugh Grant and is based on Jane Austen’s 1811 novel of the same name. The story follows the Dashwood sisters as they face sudden impoverishment and are forced to seek financial security through marriage.
“I love this one because it’s such a beautiful look into what music meant to everyone in a time when we didn’t have any recording devices or ways to amplify,” says Dr. Lauren Murray, chair of the music department at the Patel Conservatory. “So many scenes center around music and its importance to everyday life. Music is used as entertainment, as a way to meet socially, as a way to formalize relationships and as a way to express grief and emotion. I just love the movie and the music is such a huge part of that. The remarkable part is it’s not the score that makes the music so important to the movie but the fact that musical activity is embedded throughout making it part of the entire fabric.”
It’s also worth noting that composer Patrick Doyle received his first Academy Award nomination for film’s score.
Looking for more performing arts-related movies to watch? Here are some other suggestions from the Straz staff.