‘Backwards’ a salute to Ginger Rogers


“Backwards in High Heels”

When: 8 p.m. tomorrow, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday

Where: California Center for the Arts, Escondido, 340 N. Escondido Blvd., Escondido

Tickets: $37-$65

Phone: (800) 988-4253



• Ginger Rogers was the Texas State Charleston Champion in 1925, marking her stage debut.

• In 1930, when Rogers starred in the Broadway musical “Girl Crazy,” she was making $1,000 a week at the beginning of the Great Depression.

• In 1940, Rogers won an Oscar as the Best Actress in a Leading Role for her dramatic performance in “Kitty Foyle.” The nominees that year included Bette Davis, Joan Fontaine, Katharine Hepburn and Martha Scott.

• In November of 1951, Rogers was on the cover of Life magazine for the fourth time.

• Rogers was a fashion consultant from 1972 to 1975 for the JCPenney chain.

Courtesy of

As a little girl, Lynnette Barkley stayed up past bedtime to watch the glamorous dancing duo Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The couple would glide across the floor, with Rogers in a sequined gown and Astaire in a black tux with tails.

It was then that Barkley began to dream of a career in dance — and consider the idea that female roles had a different set of demands.

“I think that was the first time I heard the phrase, ‘Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but she did it backwards and in high heels,’ ” said Barkley, who co-wrote and choreographed a musical tribute to Rogers that opens tomorrow at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido.

“I remember my mom saying that when we watched those old movies.”

The world premiere of “Backwards in High Heels,” written by New York-based Barkley and author-musician Christopher McGovern, was staged in Florida three years ago.

“We worked together on ‘Sisters of Swing,’ an Andrews Sisters musical,” Barkley said. “I was directing and choreographing; Christopher was the musical director. We connected well and the producers said, ‘Why don’t you write your own musical?’ That’s how we started. We threw out a lot of different ideas, and when Ginger came up, we thought, ‘Oh — interesting!’ We had a lot to work with.”

Rogers was born Virginia Katherine McMath in 1911 and died in Rancho Mirage at the age of 83. The musical covers her life from her teenage years as a vaudeville dancer to her 1940 Academy Award win for her performance in “Kitty Foyle.” She married five times, beginning with Jack Culpepper at age 17.

Rogers’ mother, a scriptwriter, film critic and a founder of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, oversaw her daughter’s career and helped with contract negotiations. At age 19, Rogers was catapulted to stardom when she appeared in the 1930 film “Girl Crazy.” But like her friend, actress Lucille Ball, she had to fight Hollywood prejudice to get a fair financial deal.

“In my research, I found that Ginger was very instrumental in getting better pay for women,” Barkley said. “Early in her career, she was making less than the character men in her films. She fought for women to be acknowledged in Hollywood.”

The Fullerton Civic Light Opera Music Theatre recently licensed “Backwards in High Heels” and made it a more elaborate production. The show was staged last month in Fullerton and travels to Escondido this weekend for five performances.

Most people remember Rogers for her remarkable dance routines with Fred Astaire, whom she met and dated in New York before they went on to be paired in 10 films.

Even today, the names “Fred and Ginger” can refer to any dance team that exemplifies grace and fluidity.

“I think there must have been chemistry between them,” Barkley mused. “But by the time Fred got to Hollywood, he was married. They were both actors and they could create a scene or a mood with dancing without ever saying a word. That’s very rare.”

Marcia Manna

Marcia Manna covers arts, entertainment and community news for the Union-Tribune.