Starring: Vanessa Bell Calloway, Jasmine Guy, Vanessa Williams and Lynn Whitfield
Rated: PG Drama
Opening in New York City during the late 1930s, Stompin’ at the Savoy is centered around the friendship of four African-American women, Dorothy (Vanessa Bell Calloway), Alice (Jasmine Guy), Pauline (Vanessa Williams) and Esther (Lynn Whitfield). Sharing a room of a boarding house in the Brooklyn borough, each woman has different dreams of happiness, which range from mutual love and respect to fame and wealth.
Performing domestic work, practically the only option for Black women at the time, the four ladies are rejuvenated by their weekend evenings spent at the legendary, lively night spot, the Savoy Ballroom. It is located uptown in the vibrant Black community of Harlem in the borough of Manhattan. There, they spend the evening, dancing to elite jazz acts including Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald and enjoying the company of friends, potential suitors and beaus.
When the United States becomes involved in World War II, it drastically impacts each woman in ways they had not foreseen. Facing trials such as racism, classism, illness, unemployment, betrayal and national loyalty, they soon discover the strength of their sisterhood.
Viewers will want to view how Alice, Dorothy, Esther and Pauline are to retain their sisterhood!
Directed by acclaimed dancer and choreographer Debbie Allen, Stompin’ at the Savoy premiered on CBS. It also starred Darnell Williams, John D’ Aquino, Michael Warren and Mario Van Peebles. It has become a hit for many fans. It is beloved due to the actors featured; the characters’ relationships with each other; attractive and authentic costumes and sets that fit the times; and energetic dance scenes.
In his review of the tv-film for The Washington Post, critic David Mills felt the film lacked an authenticity that connected viewers to Harlem “as a place … and little genuine sense of the swing era as a time, despite scenes of furious jitterbugging, dialogue peppered with jive and plot points concerning tuberculosis and New Deal work programs.”
However, Mills gives great credit to the stellar actors featured. His praise includes Allen, who cameos as one of the first clients of Whitfield’s character. He wrote, “… as Debbie Allen watchers know all too well, she, as a comic actress, has never encountered scenery she couldn’t chew. Her scene as a beauty shop customer is a doozy.” Also impressing him was the incredible choreography that was created by celebrated Lindy Hoppers who danced at the Savoy Ballroom at its height.
This sentiment was shared by many, as Stompin’ at the Savoy was nominated for two Primetime Emmy Awards in 1992. Marilyn Matthews was nominated for “Outstanding Individual Achievement in Costume Design for a Miniseries or a Special” and legendary Lindy Hopper Norma Miller was nominated for “Outstanding Individual Achievement in Choreography”.