ABC Family films TV musical 'Elixir' in Pittsburgh
October 21, 2011 4:00 AM
From left, Sara Paxton, Adrienne Bailon and Chelsea Kane.
By Maria Sciullo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When Chelsea Kane and "Dancing With the Stars" partner Mark Ballas finished third in the finale voting last May -- won by Hines Ward and Kym Johnson -- she was, of course, disappointed.
But after spending time here filming a television musical for ABC Family, she gained understanding.
"Coming to Pittsburgh, I had no idea what 'Steeler Country' was like, and I'm actually glad I was so naive going into 'Dancing With the Stars,' because I feel like I would have handed him the Mirror Ball Trophy right at the very beginning," she said, laughing.
Fan base? Oh yes, the Steelers have one. And by association, Ms. Kane has one at Heinz Field as well.
She and some of her castmates from "Elixir" -- a fantasy of song, dance, reclaimed youth and, of course, happy endings -- visited the sidelines Oct. 9 when the Steelers defeated the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field. Of all the contestants in last season's "DWTS" cast, Ms. Kane said her new BFF was Mr. Ward.
"I got to go down on the field, and he threw me a pass, which, oddly enough, I caught," Ms. Kane said Sunday during a photo shoot break. The seven principals from "Elixir" were posing for stills at an estate in O'Hara, where on a blustery Pittsburgh afternoon it was supposed to be sunny springtime at a villa in Italy.
British actress Jane Seymour plays Harper, a dancer whose once-promising career was cut short by injury. She is given a mysterious elixir that allows her to be her young self again (played by Ms. Kane), just in time to try to stop her daughter (Sara Paxton) from making what she believes will be a terrible mistake.
Unlike "The Dark Knight Rises" and "One Shot," big-budget thrillers that have filmed in Pittsburgh during the past four months, "Elixir" has quietly danced its way across Allegheny County and surrounding areas.
Much of it has been staged at the O'Hara estate, which sits atop a leafy bluff overlooking the Allegheny River. All those trees are beginning to turn orange and red, but they were green when the shoot began about a month ago. Filming is expected to wrap up in a week or so.
"It's a little challenging, but it's worked really well," said Gaylyn Fraiche, one of Elixir's producers. "The city is beautiful. There are a lot of things we look at, like the [Panther Hollow] bridge, and say 'Hmmm, we would not have gotten that in L.A.' "
Other locations have included Hartwood Acres, Frick Park, Schenley Park, the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, the Consol Energy Center and the historic mansion at Linden Hall in Dawson, Fayette County.
There also was a big production number filmed at the Benedum, where choreographer Michael Rooney and the cast held some dance rehearsals.
The Pittsburgh Film Office maintains a database with more than 20,000 images of houses and area locations. "We have many houses on file," said director Dawn Keezer, "and we have a large number of large homes. But that [O'Hara] house is very special."
"In normal situations, you would stay in one location and you would shoot out all of those days," Ms. Fraiche said of dealing with rain. "But the [owners] have been really great, so accommodating to us, really lovely."
Everything has been shot on practical locations, without building soundstages.
"And that's the best," Ms. Fraiche said. "You save money by not having to go onto a soundstage, not having to build rooms on a soundstage."
Who needs a to build elaborate rooms in an Italian villa when the makings are already there in the house?
A downstairs family room with a sweeping vaulted ceiling had been redone to resemble a grand master bedroom. With its pale blue and cream color palette and vintage furnishings, it resembled something out of Vanity Fair.
Ms. Seymour, looking impossibly tiny in a pale lavender dress, perched on a light blue sofa there and talked about her first visit to Pittsburgh.
"I went to see Cirque du Soleil yesterday, and I've seen 'Wicked,' and we've got tickets for 'Electra.' ... The dancers I dance with [in the film], I think four or five of them are from Pittsburgh, and that was fun."
She, actress Adrienne Bailon and several others got a private tour of The Andy Warhol Museum on a quiet Monday.
"I learned so much," Ms. Bailon said, describing a lesson in silk screening.
Turns out there is a bar on the South Side called Elixir Ultra Lounge -- "Which is the greatest name of all time, unbeatable," added actor Alexander John DiPersia -- that the crew has adopted as a weekend hangout. Actor Drew Seeley has done a great deal of sightseeing on foot and said he was ready for the adventure of public transportation.
"There's a subway? It goes out to the suburbs, right? Name a good stop to get off."
Although this has been one of the rainiest September/October periods in Pittsburgh history -- which has caused scrambling to adjust schedules -- the slow turn from summer to autumn was a welcome change.
"I love to watch the colors turn, but we don't love it for the film because it's supposed to be springtime," Ms. Seymour said, smiling. "It was 40-something degrees the other day in the middle of the night and with the wind and the rain, it was beyond unbearable. You feel like a very, very sore skeleton. I needed some blubber."
"Everything is so beautiful with the change of seasons," added Ms. Paxton. "I grew up in Los Angeles. We don't have that. Our seasons are 'warm, hot, fire and coldish.' "