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Lovestruck with Pittsburgh: City subs for New York and Italy in ABC Family film

| Friday, April 19, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

When actress Sara Paxton learned she had been cast in a movie set in a Tuscan villa, she thought she was finally going to see Italy.

“Then they said: ‘We're flying you to Pittsburgh,' ” she recalls. “I would have loved Italy. But I got to spend two months in Pittsburgh.”

Executive producer Debra Martin Chase chose locations in and around Pittsburgh to stand in for New York City and Italy in the film “Lovestruck: The Musical,” which was shot here in the fall of 2011 with the working title “Elixir.”

“We looked at a lot of different places, and Pittsburgh made a lot of sense,” says Chase, who had not previously been to Pittsburgh. “There were some practical reasons — the favorable tax initiatives, the good crew base. We shot in the fall, so climate, the look of the terrain and finally finding a great house. ... It was very much about the aesthetic, the feel.”

The film will have its premiere at 8 p.m. April 21 on the ABC Family channel.

In addition to Paxton, the cast includes Jane Seymour, Tom Wopat, Chelsea Kane, Alexander DiPersia and Drew Seeley.

The romantic musical comedy focuses on Harper (Seymour), a middle-aged divorced mother whose Broadway dance career was sidetracked by an injury. She became a successful Broadway choreographer and trained her now-adult daughter Mirabella (Paxton) to follow in her footsteps.

Days before her wedding to Marco (DiPersia), a recently reformed Italian playboy, Mirabella tells her mom she's quitting the show they are rehearsing to settle down with Marco in Italy.

Mother and daughter quarrel, and Mirabella bans the mother from going to Italy for the wedding.

Harper decides to go anyway in the hope that she can stop her daughter from marrying a man Harper thinks will cheat on her daughter just as Mirabella's dad, Ryan (Wopat), did.

“It's sort of a typical mother/daughter relationship,” Paxton says.

Complications and opportunities arise when Harper drinks what she thinks is a pain killer for her knee pain.

It turns out to be a magical elixir that takes 20 years off her age. The transformation allows her to convince Mirabella that she's a distant cousin.

“She gets to know her daughter in a way that she did not know her before,” Paxton says.

That deception only works until Ryan arrives and instantly recognizes his former wife.

Weaving through the conflicts, comedy and dialogue is a musical soundtrack that has the cast covering pop hits that include Lady Gaga's “Just Dance,” Madonna's “Like a Virgin,” Whitney Houston's “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and Usher's “Got Us Fallin' in Love” plus a half-dozen original songs.

They create an abundance of stellar opportunities for the cast to sing and dance up a storm in faux Italian locations that sharp-eyed area residents may recognize:

• The movie starts with quick establishing shots that tell us we're in New York City. But Mirabella's taxi deposits her not outside a Broadway theater, but at the Benedum Center, Downtown, where her mother is rehearsing an ensemble of dancers on the stage.

• Those who can take their eyes off of Kane's Young Harper dancing through an Italian airport shopping mall will get a view of the North Shore skyline through the glass wall of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. She also departs the airport via the concrete pathway along the convention center's Water Feature on 10th Street.

• The film's climactic dance number takes place during an outdoor wedding ceremony that was filmed on a lawn near the parking lot at Hartwood Mansion in Hartwood Acres park. The mansion's roofs and chimneys can be seen behind the trees in the background.

“What always amazes everyone here is how they transform the area,” says Linda Joy, office manager at Hartwood Acres, where movies are often shot.

The film company brought in temporary flooring that looked like permanent paving stones so the dancers had a stable surface to dance on. Because it was fall and few flowers were in bloom, the crew added silk flowers to the gardens' hedges.

• Mirabella can be seen taking meditative walks along Frick Park's pathways or standing in front of the park's stone walls and bridge arches.

“It was hard to get to and hard to carry equipment down (to the location). But the park was so beautiful and romantic for a song about love and heartbreak,” Chase says.

Many of the scenes inside and outside the Tuscan villa where most of the film takes place were shot in two locations:

• Scenes at the pool, beneath the vine-covered pergola and on the terraces of the villa were shot in a private home. “It was someone's mansion in a really nice area with a ton of homes,” Paxton says.

• Linden Hall in Dawson, Fayette County, had its great hall and dining room filled with guests drinking and dancing during the big pre-wedding party dance numbers. Its solarium also was the location for scenes where former playboy Marco struggles to write his wedding vows.

“It was amazing what they did to the solarium,” says Tim Hall, Linden Hall's general manager. “They removed the fountain and transplanted trees outside the windows. They were big trees — 8 to 10 feet tall — on wagons.”

Hall says many of the younger cast members stayed in the hotel's 74 rooms while they filmed there.

“They were like your typical young people: they came, they ate, they used the bar and played the jukebox and danced — like regular patrons,” Hall says.

Paxton recalls the hotel with pleasure: “It was so cool. It was so much fun because it was toward the end and it was like a big slumber party.”

Now that she's been to Pittsburgh, producer Chase says the town is always on her short list for locations. And it's not just because of its diversity, terrain and talent pool.

“It's a beautiful city. It's incredibly green,” Chase says. “We all had the best time there.”

Alice T. Carter is a features reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or

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