Stacy Francis, who plays Ariel's best friend, Rusty, in Footloose, says she didn't have to use her imagination to understand the influence the church has on a community: She grew up a "PK" in Brooklyn.
"A PK is a 'pastor's kid'," she says. "My uncle, who raised me, was the pastor of my church, so I was called a PK all my life."
The difference between Brooklyn and Bomont [sic], the fictional middle American city where Footloose is set (and where the local preacher won't allow dancing), is that Brooklyn was full of music for Francis. Raised by her godmother, aunt and uncle, who were all pastors in her church, Francis tried piano lessons early and sang in church and high school.
A friend in high school told her about auditions for the gospel musical, Mama I Want to Sing when she was 15. "I went to see the show and the girl was singing really high, and I said, 'I could do that,'" says Francis. "I was being cocky. I was always put in the alto section in high school, but I felt like I could do it." She auditioned, taking snapshots with her, not yet understanding the world of callbacks, 8-by-10's, and rehearsals. At 15, she got the Mama role and began a long relationship with the producers, who later cast her in the Off-Broadway sequel, Born to Sing. Francis also joined a pop group called Ex Girlfriends and recorded two albums before returning to the stage when Mama I Want to Sing played London's West End.
"I didn't realize the seriousness of London until maybe last year when I booked my first Broadway show," admits Francis. "I didn't realize the West End was equivalent to Broadway."
Over the years, Francis, 25, developed her rich, five-octave range, which she now uses in the opening notes of what was one of the most popular hits from the 1984 "Footloose" picture: "Let's Hear It For the Boy."
Is there pressure recreating on stage what is already such a pop hit?
"The fun part is, everybody knows it, so the minute the music starts, the clapping starts," says Francis, who sneaks a little gospel/blues streak in the beginning of the number. "It's so much fun. I had done some things in [the] Washington [tryout] -- some more gospel stuff, some riffing, and they pulled me back. The were like, 'Stacy, too many people know this song, it has to stay familiar to them. We understand you have the voice to do it, but you have to stay true to it, because people know it and want to sing along with it.'"
Although Francis appeared in Broadway companies of Smokey Joe's Cafe (as B.J. Crosby's understudy) and Street Corner Symphony, she admits Footloose is the deepest character role yet, and the process of rehearsing by day and performing previews at night has been rigorous.
However, she loves the work and is energized by the young, eager audience: "Kids outside the stage door [have been] screaming and hollering. The Smokey Joe's audience is an older, 1950s rock 'n' roll audience, older and more conservative..."
But the Footloose crowd is "my vibe," she says. "They were screaming and I just loved it. I hope we do bring a younger audience to see what people on Broadway can do. Other than Rent, what else do they have?"