by Beki Pineda
FOOTLOOSE – Original Screenplay by Dean Pitchford; Music by Tom Snow; Lyrics by Dean Pitchford; Directed by Cole Emarine. Produced by Candlelight Dinner Playhouse (4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown) through November 14. Tickets available at 970-744-3747 or coloradocandlelight.com.
There are some really cute back stories connected with FOOTLOOSE. For instance, it’s loosely (see what I did there?) based on the real live town of Elmore City, Oklahoma. Since the town’s founding in 1898, public dancing had been banned. In 1979, the juniors and seniors at the high school came before the Town Council asking if they could have a prom. Sides were quickly taken with the Church folk on the no-dancing side and the students and school administration more or less on the “What the heck – let them have a dance” side. They ultimately won out and the dance was held with the theme of Stairway to Heaven. From lack of practice, most of the kids had to confine their activities to the slow dances. But the predicted onslaught of unwanted pregnancies did not happen; a good time was had by all. The controversy brought so much attention to the town that they now embrace it with a Footloose parade and crowning of a Footloose Queen every year bringing the community together to celebrate what they once fought against.
Additionally, did you know that Tom Cruise was to be the original Ren, but had to bow out due to a commitment to another movie? Rob Lowe blew out his ACL at his audition and Christopher Atkins (Blue Lagoon) showed up high and blew his audition. Kevin Bacon, not a trained dancer, took the role because the original script did not indicate there would be a lot of dancing. But after working with a choreographer, he would get upset when they wanted to use a double for the gymnastics and trickier dance moves. Madonna auditioned for the role of Ariel that ultimately went to Lori Singer. Sarah Jessica Parker didn’t want the role of Rusty because they wanted her to dye her hair red (which had just gotten back to her original color after playing red-headed Annie on Broadway). The working title was CHEEK TO CHEEK – Thank goodness they changed that. But it finally all came together in the iconic movie and fourteen years later the musical was premiered.
There is a back story to this production as well which ended up with it being put together in a very short rehearsal period. Director and choreographer Cole Emerine who is a long time staple performer at Candlelight with the help of Associate Choreographer Heather McClain, long time Music Director Phil Forman, Associate Music Director Jalyn Courtenay Webb and Production Manager Pat Payne all worked together to bring this show to its opening. It was a phenomenal task that proves their commitment to their audiences and their ability to work as a team. The payoff – this thoroughly enjoyable show – was worth it.
Ren McCormack (Ethan Walker) and his mom (Allison Hatch) move in with her brother (Todd Resseguie) and his wife Vi (Heather McClain) in a small town in Texas after living in the toddling town of Chicago when Ren’s father left the family alone. He’s the odd kid out as newcomer’s always are in towns this size. I know – my home town of Bement was much like the mythical town of Bomont where the show takes place. But he manages to rally the teen-agers around the idea of having a school dance even though public dancing has been banned. A car load of teenagers had a fatal accident after a dance in the past; the ban was put into place because of that event. Ren runs into church opposition to his plan in the form of Reverend Shaw Moore (Thomas Castro) whose son died in the accident and whose daughter Ariel (Susanna Ballenski) is a bit of a wild child as a result. Of course, Ren and Ariel connect in their desire to be anywhere but Bomont. But the kids efforts to get approval for the dance gets rebuffed by the Town Council until Ren and Reverend Shaw connect in shared grief over the loss of his son and Ren’s father. Leading to a big finale at the dance.
There have been a few changes in this script since the last time I saw the show on stage – mostly for the better, I think. I did miss the longer version of “Mama Says,” one of my favorite songs from this show. A very athletic dance calling on amazing timing by all the dancers took place in the high school gym as the kids sang “I’m Free” while shooting baskets, jumping on trampolines, jumping rope and twirling hula hoops – an amazing all-out energetic fun-to-watch production number. Candlelight is lucky that it has age appropriate actors – both mature and young – for their shows.
This was a well put together cast – equal in talent and committed to their roles. The two male leads in the cast – Ethan Walker as Ren and Thomas Castro as the Reverend Moore – gave us the most touching scene totally devoid of music. The mothers – Heather McClain and Allison Hatch – were lovingly motherly. The script calls for Susanna Ballenski as Ariel to evolve from flirty and aggressive to sweet and innocent and she does a good job with both. All the supporting players move and look like authentic teenagers. Hugh Butterfield makes a menacing white trash boyfriend for Ariel. Ethan Lee Knowles learned to dance as Willard, Ren’s best friend, and Ryne Haldeman was a cute Cowboy Bob, the country singer at the Bar-B-Que. Candlelight does not disappoint.
A WOW factor of 8.5!!