Entertainment » Music

Lesley Ann Warren Talks 'Dancing To The Movies'

by Robert Nesti
EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor
Thursday Jun 7, 2018

Recently Lesley Ann Warren recalled when the musical theater bug hit her. It was the early 1960s when as a teenager she would visit her classmates backstage at the Martin Beck Theatre where they were featured in the chorus of the Broadway hit "Bye, Bye Birdie." At that time she'd been training for a career in ballet for years, but watching her friends, she became a Broadway baby.

Now some fifty years later the unstoppable Warren joins the cast of "Dancing To The Movies," a dance entertainment that celebrates dance sequences from great Hollywood musicals that will be performed with the Boston Pops under the direction of Keith Lockhart this Saturday for an afternoon and evening performances.

The Pops hosted a similar show a few years ago that impressed Lockhart so much that when the opportunity arose to present this show, the Pops signed on, despite the fact that the Symphony Hall isn't by nature a venue for dance.

"We love when we can integrate dance and motion and things that are extra-musical into our concerts," said Lockhart. "This is always a challenge in Symphony Hall because the room was built for concerts, not for shows; but it worked so spectacularly the last time, we wanted to do again. And this is a concert we are performing as a matinee as well as an evening performance because people love bringing their kids to. We are trying to find more times besides the holidays when the Boston Pops can be viewed as family entertainment."

Joining Ms. Warren is a talented corps of dancers from some of television best entertainment shows, including the "Dancing With The Stars" Celebrity Pros, top finalists from "So You Think You Can Dance," America's Got Talent aerialists from "America's Got Talent" and vocal support from singing stars from "American Idol." The dance sequences, which include dance homages to such films as "West Side Story," "Grease," "Chicago," "Singin' in the Rain," and even "The Matrix," have been conceived by a team of seven choreographers.

Warren's biggest break came when Richard Rodgers hired her to play the title role in a lavish, television adaptation of "Cinderella" in 1966. Her performance in the Rodgers and Hammerstein show, which had debuted a decade earlier in a live telecast with Julie Andrews, brought her to the attention of Walt Disney, who flew her to Hollywood for a role in the live-action musical film "The Happiest Millionaire." It would turn out to be Disney's final film.

Warren's career was launched and she hasn't stopped working since, largely in films and television, most memorably in "Victor/Victoria" (Oscar nomination) and the cult hit "Clue," where she played Ms. Scarlett. But she has returned to the stage on occasion, most notably in 1997 when she returned to Broadway for a starring role in "Dream," a musical that celebrated the career of composer Johnny Mercer.

EDGE spoke to Warren recently about her taking part in a unique dance show.

EDGE: How would you describe the show?

Lesley Ann Warren: It is a musical compilation of some of the most beloved dance sequences from movie musicals performed by some great, great dancers. We don't present the originals on a screen because if we projected the original sequences, no one would watch the dancers? - There are projections that you give you a feeling for the scene, but the focus is on the dancers, and they are excellent dancers from "Dancing with the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance!" We have seven choreographers that created the great dance sequences that emulate the scenes from the movies.

EDGE: How did you get involved?

Lesley Ann Warren: I know the producer, Scott Stander. I have known him from the business. Then one day he called me and asked if I wanted to come and be a part of the show as a special guest. I said, let me come and look at what you are doing.' I went to the rehearsal studio and really quickly said I wanted it to be part of it. I started on Broadway as a dancer. It's a huge love of mine, so the exhilaration of being around dancers again and some of my favorite movie musicals, it was too much to walk away from.

EDGE: What is it like to be dancing again?

Lesley Ann Warren: It is great. It is scary. I stretch every day to make sure that I am keeping myself flexible and strong. But I am thrilled that there is a lot I am doing that I would never have thought I could have done. In terms of stamina and movement at this point in my life after not dancing for 20 years. Twenty years ago I did a Broadway show that was all dancing and singing called "Dream." I haven't danced like this for 20 years, so I am genuinely surprised and thrilled. It is not exhausting; it is exhilarating. I have to take really good care of myself, stretch and make sure I am getting proper rest and all of that, but it is exhilarating.

EDGE: You trained as a ballet dancer. What led you to change your focus to musical theater?

Lesley Ann Warren: When I was about 14, I lived in New York. I grew up in Manhattan. I had some friends who were in "Bye Bye Birdie" on Broadway and I use to go backstage and watch them. And I started to become enamored with musical theater. And I went to my first audition - I snuck out to an audition when I was 14 for the national company of "Bye Bye Birdie" and I got it. My parents wouldn't let me take it because they wanted me to finish high school, but I fell in love with musical theater and it took my dancing in a different direction.

EDGE: And you did a number of Broadway shows starting with "110 in the Shade"?

Lesley Ann Warren: Yes. It was amazing because I am the ingénue lead in that show and won the most promising newcomer award at 17, which was pretty staggering to me.

EDGE: Starring in "Cinderella" was your big break. How did that happen?

Lesley Ann Warren: It was incredible. It was because of Richard Rodgers. Oscar Hammerstein had passed just a few years before. Mr. Rodgers was like a godfather to me. He was so protective. My audition was with the musical supervisor and the choreographer and the director in his Park Avenue apartment. And he had me sit down next to him on the piano bench and taught me "My Funny Valentine." That was my audition. He created a feeling of being appreciated and loved. I felt so honored to be part of his world.

EDGE: How did you get to Hollywood?

Lesley Ann Warren: After "Cinderella," I went back to New York to do another Broadway show called "Drat The Cat!" and then was asked to do a screen test for Walt Disney for "The Happiest Millionaire." They flew me out to California and actually rehearsed for several weeks with costume fittings, hair fittings - it was very much like the old studio days with the full-screen test process. I loved it. I loved that I came to Hollywood at the tail end of the studio system. It was very exciting. And Walt Disney - it was his last film and his first non-animated, musical film. It was just great.

EDGE: You have made so many great movies, but I think to a lot of people you will always be Ms. Scarlett from "Clue." Few movies have achieved the cult status that it has. Why do you think that happened?

Lesley Ann Warren: I think a lot of times a movie comes out that isn't immediately embraced, but the excellence of them rises to the surface and people revisit it. That's what happened with "Clue." We were moderately well received when we came out, but then people revisited it and it gained cult status. Young people in their 20s come up to me and recite lines from the movie. They know it inside and out. I went to a screening here in Hollywood at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and "Clue" was one of the biggest ones they had. I had a ball making that movie. We drove the director crazy because we couldn't stop laughing at each other's work.

EDGE: And you were great in "Victor/Victoria." What was that experience like?

Lesley Ann Warren: I adored Blake (Edwards). I adored Julie (Andrews). It was a fantastic opportunity. Working with them was one of the most civilized time I ever had in Hollywood other than working with Disney. We would break every day at 4 for tea. On Fridays, we would stop shooting at 5. Blake didn't believe that people could be funny after 10 hours of work because he felt they would get too tired. It was the most creative and inspiring, but also stress-free environment I have ever worked in.

EDGE: Most of us in the LGBTQ community know of you from your recurring role on "Will & Grace" where you played the mistress to Will's dad (played by the late Sidney Pollack). Have there been any conversations about bringing you back to the show?

Lesley Ann Warren: You know I had a lot of talks with Max (Mutchnick) and David (Kohan), the creators of the show. They wanted me to come back, but we couldn't find as of yet to make sense of her coming back because she was the woman who stole Sidney Pollack, Will's father, from his mom, Blythe Danner. Sidney is gone and Blythe on the show has gone on to another relationship. As of yet, there hasn't been a way back in for my character on the show. I hope they find a way because I loved being on the show.

EDGE: You haven't stopped working since you were 17. What has been the key to your success?

Lesley Ann Warren: I don't know. I just finished a guest episode on "Daredevil," which is a Netflix series. And I just did a four-episode podcast with a bunch of terrific actors called "Blind Psychosis.." I feel very blessed. I love what I do.

Lesley Ann Warren appears in "Dancing To The Movies" with the Boston Pops on Saturday, June 9 at 2 PM and 8 PM at Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, MA. For more information, visit the Boston Pops website.

Robert Nesti can be reached at rnesti@edgemedianetwork.com.


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