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Choreographer Dances Into First ‘Leading Lady’ Role

15 Aug, 2011 By: Ashley Ratcliff

Melanie LaPatin (center) stars in Leading Ladies alongside newcomers Shannon Lea Smith (left) and Laurel Vail.

As a choreographer with decades of experience, Melanie LaPatin knows her way around the stage. When the Brooklynite signed on to create ballroom and swing dance routines for the lesbian-themed comedy Leading Ladies, LaPatin was in her comfort zone.

But co-director Erika Randall Beahm, who also co-wrote and co-produced, had a different role in mind for LaPatin. She asked the dancing queen to audition to play Sheri Campari, the overbearing stage mom to two twentysomething daughters whose entire lives revolve around ballroom dancing.

“I said, ‘Why not?’ I’ve never done anything like that before, and I’m always open to new ideas and new things. … I knew I was dramatic,” LaPatin said with a laugh. “But I had no idea it would lead to that. I would do it again in a minute.”

Wolfe Video releases the film on DVD ($24.95) Sept. 13. Bonus material includes a blooper reel and alternate and extended scenes.

In Leading Ladies, the Campari family is preparing to have one of its own compete in an important regional ballroom dance championship. However, Sheri spins out of control when her youngest daughter, Tasi (Shannon Lea Smith), gets pregnant and her oldest daughter, Toni (Laurel Vail), falls for the free-spirited Mona (Nicole Dionne).

LaPatin said she drew inspiration for the part from her real-life mother, Barbara LaPatin, whom she called “very high-strung and controlling.”

“I would describe Sheri as the person that I really don’t want to be, but I have a feeling that I’m a lot like her,” LaPatin said. “I was definitely obsessed about the dancing, more than she was, actually. It was myself that I was criticizing and nothing was good enough and had to be the best, so I really understood where she was coming from. If I had children, I probably would have been the same.”

While working on Leading Ladies, LaPatin had the opportunity to reunite with several dancers she’s gotten to know through “So You Think You Can Dance,” the Fox dance competition series that she and her longtime partner, Tony Meredith, choreograph. They included season-two winner Benji Schwimmer, Katee Shean, Kherington Payne, Courtney Galiano and Sara Vongillern.

As for the film’s message, LaPatin said people should take Leading Ladies’ tagline — “Let love lead” — to heart and not judge others based on whom they fall in love with.

“Live and let live,” she said. “Don’t we have more important things to criticize? I just believe that you are who you are, and who are we to decide who you should be?”

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