There is a time to weep. There is a time to mourn. And there is a time to dance! “Footloose – The Musical,” based on the hit 1984 movie that launched the careers of Kevin Bacon and Sarah Jessica Parker among others, explodes onto the Landers Theatre stage in Springfield Little Theatre's new production June 7-23 to conclude LT's 2018-19 season. I talked with the actors playing Ren and (no, NOT Stimpy!) Ariel—Patrick Sturm and Austen McGranahan—on KSMU’s “Arts News.”
Sturm’s character, a teenager named Ren, moves with his mother from big-city life in Chicago to small-town Bomont (Sturm refers to it in our interview as “Beaumont, Texas,” although the film and stage scripts only identify Bomont, as it’s spelled, as a small town in the middle of nowhere). And Ren’s life is abruptly altered—he thinks, for the worse. “He just does not want to be there, after moving from a big city where he could do anything.” The problem with Bomont is that it is crippled by rules and regulations. “They just want to control all they can, to make sure no one gets hurt,” continues Sturm. “Every rule that they have stems from an accident five years before Ren got there, where four kids in that town tragically died. And in order to prevent any other accidents, they put all these rules in place. One of them is the outlawing of dancing—something that was part of Ren’s life, a way to blow off steam, I guess, in Chicago. So he comes in and kicks up a fuss, and goes back and forth with Reverend Moore, the city leader. And it’s a really fun, fun, fun show, though there are a couple of moments where the fun stops and you go into a really heartwarming, serious situation. And then the fun comes back! And I really think those moments are going to catch the audience by surprise. It’s a really great story.”
Breaking every taboo, Ren brings dance back to the heart of Bomont, which has never had a high-school prom. One of the Bomont residents Ren most influences is Ariel, Reverend Moore’s rebellious daughter. “Yes, she is the Reverend’s daughter—but doesn’t want to be!”, declares Austen McGranahan. “You can’t change that, but she’s very rebellious. So when Ren comes into town and starts causing the fuss, she’s very intrigued by him. He’s kind of the first person she’s ever met in this little town that’s challenged her, and made her work to get what she wants.”
The movie version of “Footloose” featured many now-classic 1980s pop anthems, including "Let's Hear It For the Boy,” "Holding Out for A Hero," "Almost Paradise," and of course the title song—all of which are heard in the stage adaptation.
LT’s production is directed by Beth Domann, with choreography by Angie Black, vocal direction by Kim Snyde,r and musical direction by Parker Payne—who the entire ensemble consider a “prodigy”! Patrick Sturm explains why there is both a vocal director and an overall music director. “Because Parker is acting as the music director and (keyboard) accompanist, having a vocal director helps (Parker) be able to direct the pit orchestra without having to worry about the singers onstage. A vocal director can just focus on every single singer’s part, so Parker can make sure the orchestra in the pit sounds good with the singers onstage. It would be a LOT of work to play the piano, and listen to all four parts (soprano/alto/tenor/bass), and control the pit (band) at the same time.”
There are 44 in the cast, as well as what Austen McGranahan describes as “15 to 20 extra crew people who are just amazing, and help us with everything from quick changes to moving the set to anything in between. They’re really awesome. We’re really lucky with them.” She says Angie Black’s choreography is largely original—“you’ve got the great Kevin Bacon jazz steps that you will know from the movie. But for the most part Angie has come up with some really killer choreography that is super original, super fun—and it makes us work our butts off!”
Regarding Beth Domann’s stage direction, Patrick Sturm says, “What I have noticed, and really enjoy, is that the parts that are fun, and funny, we’re making them as fun and funny as we can, to the nth degree. That way, the audience is fully engaged and they’re having a good time, and they really want to be onstage with us! But then, on a dime, we shift into a serious scene. So it’s kind of like you catch the audience off-guard, and suddenly there’s this serious, heartwarming, heartfelt scene”—which, he says, keeps the audience engaged in “a good way, in an ‘I want to know what comes next’ sort of way.” Adds Austen McGranahan, “Beth does a really great job of pulling things out of you that you didn’t know you had in you. The two of us,” she says, indicating Patrick, “have run scenes that we thought were going to go one way, and then Beth went ‘Mmm, nope, we’re gonna do this.’ And it made it so much better.”
Following the first weekend, which opens Friday June 7, “Footloose The Musical” showtimes are 7:30pm Thursdays through Saturdays and 2:00pm Sundays at the Landers Theatre, 311 E. Walnut. Tickets are $16-$36 and available from the Landers box office, 869-1334 or at www.springfieldlittletheatre.org.