Director Baz Luhrmann is known for his glittery film adaptations of classic love stories from Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" to F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," as well as his original romance "Moulin Rouge."
"For the Record: Baz Luhrmann," which opened Thursday and runs through Oct. 19 at Rockwell: Table and Stage in Los Angeles, reenacts memorable moments and music from the director's catalog and features Rumer Willis in her musical theater debut.
"We thought, 'What makes Baz Luhrmann tick as a filmmaker?' And one common thing is star-crossed love," said Shane Scheel, who co-created the For the Record series for the Rockwell restaurant in Los Feliz.
A mix of supper club and cabaret, the show intertwines scenes and soundtracks from Luhrmann's "Romeo + Juliet," "Strictly Ballroom," "Moulin Rouge" and "The Great Gatsby" with a cast of nine, many with Broadway credits, quickly shifting among costumes, characters and hits by Prince, Jay-Z and Cyndi Lauper while backed by a live band.
"I did a play before but nothing like this," said Willis, the 25-year-old daughter of actors Demi Moore and Bruce Willis. "We're literally dancing almost on top of people."
A fan of the show, Willis was a last-minute addition after Lindsey Gort, a For the Record regular who was to play Juliet, was cast as the young Samantha Jones in CW's "The Carrie Diaries."
When Gort dropped out, Scheel emailed Willis asking her to join the show.
"He said, 'We heard you might want to do the show some time.' I said, "Yeah I would love to, tell me when.' He said, 'We start rehearsals tomorrow at 10 a.m.,'" said Willis, whose screen credits include "House Bunny" and the TV series "Pretty Little Liars."
Created three years ago by Scheel and music director Chris Bratten, For the Record shows focus on the catalog of a particular director — past productions celebrated the films of Quentin Tarantino, John Hughes and the Coen brothers. (There was a previous installment devoted to Luhrmann, who Scheel said saw and praised the show.)
For the Record played to mostly sold-out crowds, prompting Rockwell a year ago to tear down the wall between the bar and the restaurant, tripling the performance space.
"It just feels like a really natural fit for Los Angeles because it allows audiences an escape inside the movies," Scheel said of the series' popularity.
The shows feature actors high-stepping and singing across any spare space in the restaurant — the bar, the sound booth, even patron's laps — while waiters weave to avoid the spotlight while serving entrees and cocktails.
"This concert is happening all around you and a scene can pop up in any part in the room," said Broadway alum Ginifer King, who spends her days shooting Nickelodeon's "Haunted Hathaways" and her evenings in a lace-up corset channeling Nicole Kidman from Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge." "It's not like a Broadway show. There's such a bohemian feel to it, and there's such a spontaneity that you don't get with a lot of stage productions."
The production is more raw than refined. The actors have about two weeks to rehearse; some costumes are borrowed. And the roles, which are cast three actors deep, can rotate if a performer books another gig. (Willis is off soon to shoot an appearance on CBS' "Hawaii Five-0.")
The seating is snug. Patrons often split small tables with strangers and can end up knocking knees, drinks or the stage that crisscrosses the crowd. During the opening performance, a gutted Mercutio's gasped his last breath while audience members moved their bags and chairs.
But Scheel sees the authentic moments as part of the show's appeal.
"It's very grass roots," he said. "I think in this over-produced world we live in, the audience connects with that. There's something very visceral and natural about the experience of being up close and personal and sharing a night with an artist."
'For the Record: Baz Luhrmann'
Where: Rockwell: Table & Stage, 1714 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.
When: Aug. 22-Oct. 19, Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.
Contact: http://www.rockwell-la.com, (323) 669-1550