Christina Aguilera, Kristen Bell & Steve Antin Burlesque

Christina Aguilera, Kristen Bell & Steve Antin Burlesque
Cast: Cher, Christina Aguilera, Eric Dane, Stanley Tucci, Cam Gigandet, Kristen Bell, Alan Cumming, Julianne Hough and Peter Gallagher.
Director: Steve Antin
Genre: Drama, Musical
Rated: M

Synopsis: It Takes a Legend to Make a Star.

In writer/director Steven Antin's finger-snapping, eye-popping and atmospheric musical Burlesque, a time-honored tale of showbiz aspirations fulfilled - and the hallmarks of a classic form of live entertainment - get a dazzling, fun movie makeover.

For Ali (Christina Aguilera), a small-town girl with a big voice, there had to be somewhere her dreams could be fulfilled, rather than remain an empty goal. Enter the world of burlesque.

Leaving behind hardship and an uncertain future for the entertainment capital Los Angeles, Ali stumbles upon The Burlesque Lounge, a majestic but ailing theater that is home to an inspired musical revue. Talking herself into a cocktail waitress job from Tess (Cher), the club's glamorous and forthright proprietor, headliner and starmaker, Ali becomes a wide-eyed sponge to The Burlesque's captivating acts. The outrageous costumes and bold choreography hold the young ingénue enraptured.

That stage is where Ali was meant to be, so she vows to herself she'll be on it someday.

But first she has to navigate the theater's many interpersonal relationships, for better or for worse. She builds a friendship with a featured dancer (Julianne Hough), finds an enemy in a troubled, jealous performer (Kristen Bell), and wins the affection of Jack (Cam Gigandet), a handsome bartender and musician who takes Ali in as a temporary roommate to help her get her financial footing. Eventually, with the help of a sharp-witted yet sensitive stage manager (Stanley Tucci) and the club's gender-bending host (Alan Cumming), Ali makes her way from the bar to the stage. Her spectacular voice and showmanship returns The Burlesque Lounge to its former glory, giving hope to Tess that she won't have to entertain the demands of her ex-husband (Peter Gallagher) that she sell the place to a charismatic entrepreneur (Eric Dane) with an enticing proposal.

As Ali's star rises, it becomes thrillingly clear that the Burlesque Lounge lives to titillate, fascinate and make dreams come true. But are its days - and colorful, sexy, music-filled nights -- numbered?

Burlesque was produced by Donald De Line. The executive producers are Stacy Kolker Cramer and Risa Shapiro.

The crew includes costume designer Michael Kaplan, music by Christophe Beck, music supervisor Buck Damon, editor Virginia Katz, A.C.E., production designer Jon Gary Steele, director of photography Bojan Bazelli, ASC, and choreographers Denise Faye and Joey Pizzi.

The running time is 1 hour & 56 minutes.

Trailer -

Welcome to Burlesque:

When it comes to the vibrant, timeless world of burlesque and its recent pop culture renaissance, writer-director Steven Antin had the kind of intimate connection impossible to ignore: his sister and Steve Antin had recognized there was a rich story in the art form, its fans, and its performers. Encouraged by Screen Gems president Clint Culpepper, Steve Antin used his knowledge of burlesque to chart out Ali Rose's incredible journey from a bar in Iowa to a club on the Sunset Strip. One objective for Steve Antin was to remain true to the spirit of the art form, noting that a popular misconception about burlesque is that it is synonymous with stripping. Steve Antin explains: "Burlesque only became associated with striptease in the United States in the early twentieth century, and that was inspired by the Moulin Rouge in the 1890s in Paris. Previously, burlesque was defined by comedy shows with singing and dancing, storytelling and parodies. It was considered risqué and funny and appealed to the mass culture.

The risqué elements of Burlesque, though, never venture beyond a cheeky suggestion or a delicious double entendre. "Burlesque is sometimes risqué, always sexy, but never sexual," Steve Antin continues. "Everything we do in this movie, like with original burlesque, is intended to be something enjoyable. It's a big, friendly, bawdy, fun romp. Burlesque was entertainment for the masses in its original form, and it still is today in Burlesque."

Steve Antin's screenplay imbues the Burlesque Lounge with its own rich personality and history. His desire was to present a somewhat magical space that could transport its inhabitants to an alternate reality. "When Ali Rose walks into the Burlesque Lounge, she's falling down the rabbit hole, not unlike 'Alice in Wonderland,'" says Steve Antin. "She descends this staircase and the first person she meets is Alexis, who looks suspiciously like The Mad Hatter."With the script in place, Steve Antin and Culpepper set out to find who would populate the world of the Burlesque Lounge.

Who's In the Spotlight:

To give Burlesque the marquee pizzazz they envisioned, the filmmakers knew that only a megastar would do. It meant that they pursued Cher tirelessly before the Oscar winner agreed to end a seven year hiatus and return to the big screen. (They even paid a surprise personal plea to Cher when she was on the Sony lot doing an ADR session for MGM's animated The Zookeeper.) The filmmakers believed that Cher would respond to the role of Tess because the character is both familiar and contemporary, somebody with a lot to give who's in danger of having her dream taken away. Steve Antin notes: "Tess is one of a zillion people losing their shirt. That's a very real thing happening right now and I thought it was an interesting thing for this character to be experiencing."

"Cher said, 'I've been rich and I've been poor. Rich is better.'" Steve Antin continues. "She's been up and she's been down and she's had good times and bad times. I knew that she would relate to this character and this world. She's the embodiment of female empowerment, you know? And that's what Burlesque is about: female empowerment."

When it came to the role of Ali, the filmmakers had their eyes on Christina Aguilera, who Steve Antin had long been friends with. But what cinched it for him was her appearance on "Saturday Night Live," which made him certain that she had the chops to portray Ali. "I had this instinct about her," Steve Antin notes. "I had seen her on 'Saturday Night Live' doing something very difficult. I don't think people realize how tough it is to be funny in a live element like that. I knew she could do this based on her instincts in those seemingly simple, but really incredibly difficult comedy skits. I knew she could do any of the comedy in the movie and all of the drama."

From Christina Aguilera's standpoint, her enthusiasm for the project began when she connected to what Ali goes through. "I could relate to Ali as a whole: having this dream, being denied, getting a chance, and getting people to take you seriously, because it took a few times before someone bit and I got my big break," says Christina Aguilera.

Cam Gigandet, who stars in Screen Gems' Priest and The Roommate, portrays Jack, Ali's confidante and fellow musician. "The preparation that he brings into the room every day is pretty extraordinary," Steve Antin says of the young actor. "This very handsome, young guy with an incredible body swaggers into the room and you expect somebody really different than the person that you get to know. He's a quiet, introverted, very thoughtful guy. He has a process that's really interesting. He really cares about his craft and cares about what he's doing, and he comes prepared."

Cam Gigandet took breaks from Priest, which also shot on the Sony lot, to see the progress of the building of the set and to observe rehearsals for Burlesque's many musical numbers. "I had my whole cowboy get-up on, and I walked over there and they were dancing and rehearsing and it was so wild!" Cam Gigandet recalls. "I don't know what I had in my mind, but it was much smaller. The grandness of it and the attention to detail was just amazing. It just blows my mind how well it's done and how gorgeous the lighting is."

Stanley Tucci, who also appears in Screen Gems' Easy A, portrays the Burlesque Lounge's stage manager Sean. Says Stanley Tucci, "Sean is Tess's right-hand man, confidante, ex-lover, and best friend, who will do anything for her and for this art form that they both love."

The filmmakers were enthusiastic to have Stanley Tucci join the production: "He just makes the character real, funny and organic, and natural. He doesn't have a moment, not a nanosecond on film that isn't truthful and honest. It doesn't matter what you ask him to do, or what you ask him to say, or what he does on film. That's a fundamental, intrinsic talent that you can't teach somebody and you can't learn. He's so compelling to watch because it's just so honest."

Christina Aguilera wasn't the only movie newcomer to join the cast. Singer and former "Dancing With The Stars" performer Julianne Hough makes her screen debut in Burlesque as dancer Georgia. "I'd seen Julianne on 'Dancing With The Stars' and fell in love with her," explains Steve Antin. "I thought she was somebody really special and an incredible dancer, and drop-dead beautiful. She had something about her. She had that 'It' factor."

Alan Cumming had wowed Steve Antin with his cabaret-style performances at LA's Geffen Playhouse, so he cast him as Burlesque lounge doorman Alexis, whose rejoinder to all who enter is "We may not have windows, but we do have the best view on the Sunset Strip." To film the movie, Cumming had to balance the Burlesque production schedule in Los Angeles with his New York schedule for CBS's hit series "The Good Wife." "In New York, I'm playing a political analyst," says Cumming. "I go back and forth playing this very conservative guy to playing this crazy person."

The ensemble has its share of characters that stand in the way of the success of Ali and Tess. For Kristen Bell, Peter Gallagher and Eric Dane, their characters weren't villains, just survivalists coping with complicated circumstances.

Kristen Bell plays Nikki, whose attitude and self-destructiveness turn Burlesque Lounge's backstage into drama-filled turmoil. "I don't think you can ever come into a part that is seemingly the antagonist and, as the actor, believe that they're bad," Kristen Bell says. "You have to look for the reasons why Nikki thinks what she's doing is right. She's just more entitled than everyone else. She's had it easy, she's also worked very hard to get where she is, and she's going to defend her territory. Nikki doesn't think she's bitchy. She thinks she's trying to cope with everyone around her."

Much of Nikki's protectiveness and insecurity is wrapped up in her relationship with Tess. Kristen Bell explains: "Nikki admires Tess so much. Tess is this beautiful, gorgeous, talented woman who owns this club and who gave Nikki her start. She allowed Nikki to dance, and they have been friends for a long, long time. When Ali weasels her way into the relationship and Nikki's no longer the favorite, it really makes her angry."

Similarly, Peter Gallagher finds that his character Vince - Tess's ex-husband -- deals with the theater's nasty financial situation to the best of his abilities. "He's not really an evil guy," Gallagher says. "He just doesn't want to end up defaulting on a loan and having no credit and dying broke like every, every other musician he knows. This was supposed to be something we could do that would be good for everybody and now it's slowly drowning me."

On top of that, Gallagher was already quite familiar with the world of burlesque prior to joining the production: "This is my mother-in-law's world," Gallagher explains. "She danced at Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe and the Latin Quarter and at Radio City in the ballet corps. Half the houses I've worked with on Broadway were burlesque houses."

"He brought so much to the table," Steve Antin says of Peter Gallagher. "He really had an approach to the character. He had a whole history worked out for the character, and it just came alive."

Vince forms an alliance with wealthy developer Marcus, portrayed by Eric Dane, who balanced the film production with his 'Grey's Anatomy' shooting schedule. "He's described at the end as not the bad guy, just the wrong guy," says Eric Dane. "You walk a fine line. You can end up being that villainous sort of antagonist. This character in particular, in this movie, could be that guy. I don't want him to be that guy."

Playing bad has its charms, especially for someone who typically finds herself playing good. "It's fun to play the mean girl," Kristen Bell says. "There are fewer rules. You can do what you want because bad people don't have much of a conscience."


Though the Burlesque Lounge provided new creative relationships, many members of the cast and crew had collaborated previously. The Burlesque Lounge reintroduced Peter Gallagher with his "Guys And Dolls" co-star (and Burlesque choreographer) Denise Faye. Gallagher and Cher enjoyed a brief cinematic encounter when she had a cameo role as Larry Levy's date for an event in Robert Altman's The Player. Costume designer Michael Kaplan had his first job as an assistant on "The Sonny and Cher Show." Theatrical lighting designers Peggy Eisenhauer and Jules Fisher previously collaborated with choreographers Denise Faye and Joey Pizzi on Rob Marshall's Chicago, and with Alan Cumming for his Tony Award-winning turn in "Cabaret." Christina Aguilera took dancer Paul Kirkland on the road with her for two of her tours.

The first few weeks of production were divided between filming big musical numbers ("E.X.P.R.E.S.S.," "A Guy What Takes His Time," and "I Am A Good Girl") and quiet, often intimate scenes between Cam Gigandet and Christina Aguilera. Cam Gigandet praises his co-star for her commitment. "She came to play. She really did," Cam Gigandet enthuses. "She jumped into the deep end of the pool as quickly as possible. It was a crash course. She was open-minded and willing, throughout the whole movie. It was kind of an exciting journey to see how she was on the first day to where she is now. It was special to be a part of this because you could see her grow."

Furthermore, Cam Gigandet notes that director Steven Antin devoted as much of his attention to the film's smaller moments as he did to the breathtaking musical numbers: "He was so focused on simply the story, the acting, and the relationship that these two were going through. I feel like that's rare, especially on such a big movie. When it came to those details, he stepped up and didn't let all the distractions get in the way, which is great."

Director of photography Bojan Bazelli helped Steve Antin capture Burlesque's wildest, most romantic and most thrilling moments. Bazelli comments: "Color is a big player in this movie. It has vibrancy. Burlesque, in my mind, is red. We played where we added lots of red tones in the entire musical. Any time there is a number, there is a significant amount of very rich, saturated red."

Bazelli aimed to set a distinction between Ali's Hollywood and her world inside the club. "Any time we enter the club, the club is vibrant, its colors are vibrant," Bazelli says. "The contrast is stronger. Whereas when we are in the streets -- and not that Hollywood is not a vibrant place -- but we tried to keep it a little less colorful. The tonality is monochromatic. It's representing two worlds: One would be Cher's world, one would be the world of Christina, a new arrival in town."Bazelli worked seamlessly with Eisenhauer and Fisher to create an active, bold vision for the lounge's musical sequences. Peter Gallagher observes: "Bojan creates a world that appears real, that we're living in and acting in and telling the story in, and Peggy illuminates this heightened reality and helps tell the story of these musical numbers. There's an extraordinary amount of cooperation and coordination in their two separate worlds."

Occasionally, the production would leave the stage to venture out into practical locations. There were some obvious logistical difficulties in bringing two music icons into the middle of Hollywood. Nevertheless, Steve Antin had a dream to shoot a scene on Hollywood Boulevard. He comments: "I grew up here. The sun sets almost right in the center of Hollywood Boulevard and creates this incredible light that blasts down Hollywood Boulevard, and it reflects off those terrazzo, slick, Walk of Fame sidewalks. I'd seen it so many times and I always wanted to shoot it, and I got to shoot it in this movie. I had no idea that it was going to be as crazy as it was. There were mobs of people. I felt like we were in Times Square. I've never seen it that crowded."

Another outdoor scene, a confrontation between Nikki and Tess, required Kristen Bell to dive right into one of her most dramatic scenes mere moments after meeting Cher. "Shooting the parking lot scene was kind of bizarre because I hadn't known Cher at that point," Kristen Bell recalls. "We both knew this was a pivotal point in our relationship, so it had to be good and it had to be real. We sat down and talked first and we said, 'Obviously we're best friends. We've had a million movie nights where I've burnt the popcorn and you've made gin and tonics and we've painted each other's nails and you're my idol and I'm your protégé and this has been going on for years and this is how it works and tonight's the night of our break-up.'"

Despite the level of fame Cher and Christina Aguilera brought to the production, Kristen Bell found her work environment to be exceptionally supportive. "They're both so down-to-earth, which I hate to say is surprising, but it was," Kristen Bell recalls. "You don't know what kind of personality someone's going to have when they're that iconic, but they're both lovely and so much fun to work with and so blunt and easy to be around. It's become like a really nice family, kind of like these girls actually have at this burlesque club."

Christina Aguilera did more than just act, sing and dance in Burlesque; she also co-wrote three of the songs that appear in the film: "E.X.P.R.E.S.S.," "Bound to You," and "Show Me How You Burlesque." Christina Aguilera offered to write the music and Steve Antin graciously accepted. With a caveat, though. "Christina said, 'Does that mean if I write one and you don't like it, it's not in the movie?' And I said, 'Yeah,'" Steve Antin jokes. "That's basically it. She's not afraid of a challenge, a girl like Christina Aguilera. She went out and wrote song after song after song, and it was spectacular. We talked a lot about what those songs were. I wrote treatments for the songs, about what story those songs tell in the movie and what the subject matter is, and what the tone of the songs might be." Steve Antin did write one of the key songs that Christina performs in the film - "But I'm a Good Girl."

The expertly choreographed dance numbers took shape months before production. Steve Antin, whom worked very closely with choreographers Joey Pizzi and Denise Faye, describes the process: "Denise Faye was here for months with me, conceptualizing and looking at movies and music videos that we loved, and referencing everything you could possibly imagine from the last several hundred years of dance, and burlesque and vaudeville, and opera. We had a whole wall that we had all the numbers up on with different ideas. We would just pare them down and pare them down. She and Joey Pizzi brought their choreography team here: Tara Hughes, Aisha Francis, Melanie Lewis and Jaquel Knight. The six of them would get into a room after we would conceptualize something, and they'd bring me in and say, 'Here's the rough bones of it.'"

Each member of the team added his or her own bit of expertise to the film's choreography. Jaquel Knight explains: "Denise, Joey and Tara worked together previously. They had this chemistry already among themselves with such a great talent and technique behind it. Aisha and Melanie and I brought a kind of commercial side to the whole project. My style personally is very funky, very street, very underground. It's inspired by whatever you see at the moment."Aisha Francis, a member of the choreography team and featured dancer, describes her favorite number: "'Something's Got a Hold on Me,' but I wasn't in it, thank God!" Francis laughs. "They were about to die! That was like running a ten-day marathon at full speed. I felt so awful for the girls. It was like thirty seconds between each take, but they look so amazing. They're so professional and they're just hot."

Steve Antin also relied on Pizzi and Faye to provide some of the film's comedic touches. "I kept saying, 'You know, this number has to be funny,'" Steve Antin says of Kristen Bell's euphemism-filled dentist visit romp, called "Dr. Long John." "I kept pushing them to mine the comedy out of the song. Denise and Joey are really funny and they understand musical comedy and musical theater. They found the fun and the comedy and sexiness in this number."

The dancers of Burlesque might as well have been stunt performers, given their numerous battle scars. "I come down on this metal beaded curtain and I'm all wrapped up," Hough remembers of shooting "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend." "I've got nothing holding me up. The bad thing about that, though, is that it looked like I had rug burn because I had all these marks all over my body from the metal beads. It hurt so much. But it's a fabulous number and pain feels good when you know it's going to pay off."

Dancer Sean van der Wilt felt the pain from another source-the gold chain dresses in the finale. "When the girls slide down my arms, I cut myself on the chains on their dresses," says van der Wilt. "It's been brutal, but the movie is going to be all worth it."

Dancer Paul Kirkland got to see a very different side to Christina Aguilera, who he worked with on the "Stripped" and "Back To Basics" tours. "Usually, she's worried about her vocals because it's her show and it's all about her voice," offers Kirkland. "It's really nice to see her perform as a dancer and kind of get a taste of what we do. I've always experienced the music side of things for her, so now I'm seeing her grow and become a movie star and become the amazing person that she is."

"The main girls were here every day and we pushed them very hard and some were moving into areas that they weren't used to," choreographer and dancer Tara Hughes says. "It was rigorous and those girls put in their time. You fight hard and know that in seven months you'll rest. We had two months of pre-production and two months of rehearsals with the dancers and actors, then three months of shooting."

Kristen Bell held her own with Christina Aguilera and Hough and the team of seasoned dancers. "They danced with Michael Jackson and they dance with Beyoncé. These girls are the best of the best. You would think that it might be a giant catfight with this many women, but it's not. It's such a supportive environment. I'm very much trying to keep up with them in the dance department. I can pull one aside and say, 'Can you show me that step again?' They're ready and willing to make it the best it can be," Kristen Bell says.

Alan Cumming's first day on set was Georgia's wedding scene, filmed in downtown Los Angeles. "I had him dancing with Julianne at one point, and they had just met ten minutes before," Steve Antin remembers. "He said to Julianne, 'Darling, can you manage a twirl?' And she sort of looked at him, and because she's so sweet, she said, 'Yeah. I think I can pull it off.'"

Above all else, the cast embraced the enthusiasm of their director. "Steven Antin is phenomenal," Hough says. "He's such a ball of energy and you always feel so beautiful when you're around him because he makes you feel that way. He understands women and obviously the musical aspect of things, so we're definitely putting our trust in him and it's well-deserved."

Christina Aguilera says she and Steve Antin bonded from day one on the movie. "There's something about him that I felt I'd known my whole life," says Christina Aguilera. "He was involved with every aspect, and he cared about it like it was his baby. It makes you not want to disappoint him even more. He was great."All in all, Christina Aguilera says audiences for Burlesque can expect a fun song-and-dance ride from beginning to end. She adds: "It was a really beautiful thing to be a part of, and I think it shows onscreen. Audiences will see how much heart we put into this picture."

Release Date: January 13th, 2010