More than 20 years ago, “Paris is Burning” shone a light on the gay ball scene. Now the narrative musical “Leave it on the Floor,” a film festival darling, continues the tradition with its own theatrical release. It opens in Atlanta on Friday.
“Leave It on the Floor” debuted in Atlanta last year during Out On Film and won the Audience Award for Best Men’s Feature. Once again, Atlanta provides another first for the film: We’re the first city to see its theatrical release outside a festival, with New York and Chicago as possibilities based on the success of the Atlanta run.
The musical follows Brad (Ephraim Sykes, who made a lot of noise last year as one of the stars of the world premiere “Bring It On: The Musical” at the Alliance Theatre), a young man thrown out of his home by his mother. He steals her car, travels to Los Angeles and almost literally stumbles into a dance event, where he meets and befriends the members of the House of Eminence and ultimately decides to compete himself.
Set in the contemporary gay ball culture of Los Angeles, “Leave It on the Floor” features 11 original songs. Phillip Evelyn, who stars as Princess Evelyn in the film, was born in Atlanta and attended Georgia-Cumberland Academy. While here, he was a member of the House of Escada. He feels Atlanta has a very strong ball music scene.
“To some extent, it is underground,” he says. “But it is starting to surface. People know that Atlanta is the place; they will come out for it. There are a lot of drag shows here, and sometimes the mothers of the houses will be there.”
Evelyn has travelled around the world with the film and says it has been warmly embraced.
“The feedback is always great, and people want to know more about the scene,” he adds.
While he acknowledges hearing comparisons of “Leave It On the Floor” to “Paris Is Burning,” a film he loves and still thinks holds up, he says “Paris” is more “explanational” and that “Floor” is more about the family of characters, with the ball scene in the background.
“Leave It on the Floor” is directed by Sheldon Larry, choreographed by Frank Gatson, Jr.—the force behind the moves of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” video—and written by Out On Film veteran Glenn Gaylord, who visited Atlanta in 2009 with “Eating Out: All You Can Eat.” This film is a 180-degree departure for Gaylord, who also wrote the lyrics.
James Alsop, who plays Eppie Durall, is from Charlotte, N.C. Alsop says he knew writer Gaylord and was told that he needed to be a part of the project. He calls his character Eppie the heart of the film – “She keeps the family all together.”
Alsop admits that the ball scene in Los Angeles depicted in the film isn’t as prevalent as it is in New York and on the East Coast.
“It’s not as widespread, but I am glad that a lot of voices are now being heard in LA,” he says.
“Leave It On the Floor” opens Friday, April 20 at the Plaza Theatre.
Jim Farmer is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and public relations professional specializing in film promotions. He has been a theater and pop-culture critic for more than a dozen years and is the director of Atlanta’s annual Out On Film LGBT film festival.