Gotta Dance: Bobbie & Ciulla Expect Footloose To Be A Dance Explosion

Gotta Dance: Bobbie & Ciulla Expect Footloose To Be A Dance Explosion If you want to meet those dancing feet, the place to go this fall is not 42nd but 46th Street, to the Richard Rodgers Theatre. That's where Footloose -- the Broadway musical version of the hit 1984 movie about a Midwestern town that bans dancing and a young man from Chicago who fights to get those feet moving again -- is strutting its stuff.
The company in Times Square; Jeremy Kushnier and Jennifer Laura Thompson share an intimate moment in Footloose.
The company in Times Square; Jeremy Kushnier and Jennifer Laura Thompson share an intimate moment in Footloose. (Photo by Company photo by Marc Bryan-Brown; Production photo by Joan Marcus)

If you want to meet those dancing feet, the place to go this fall is not 42nd but 46th Street, to the Richard Rodgers Theatre. That's where Footloose -- the Broadway musical version of the hit 1984 movie about a Midwestern town that bans dancing and a young man from Chicago who fights to get those feet moving again -- is strutting its stuff.

"We want the dance in the show to be an explosion -- a joyous, dynamic, youthful explosion," says Walter Bobbie, the musical's director, a Tony Award winner as Best Director for the hit revival of Chicago. "We have hip-hop and contemporary dance, but we also have gymnastics and roller skating and aerobics and people jumping rope and people playing basketball. It's all completely choreographed. The show has a real muscularity to it."

It also has a cast of 37 -- many of them Broadway newcomers -- as well as nine new musical numbers and all the hit songs from the movie, among them the title tune and "Let's Hear It for the Boy." The cast includes Stephen Lee Anderson as the preacher who thinks dancing is a sin; Dee Hoty as the preacher's wife; and 22-year-old Jeremy Kushnier of Winnipeg, Canada, making his Broadway debut as Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon in the movie), the teen-ager who has a passion for dance--and for the reverend's daughter.

Footloose also has a 31-year-old choreographer, A. C. Ciulla, who has worked with the likes of Madonna and Reel 2 Reel and is choreographing his first Broadway show. "It's a new direction for Broadway," says Ciulla. "A lot of it has the style and the energy of an MTV music video. There's all different styles of dance. It's a real challenge, and I'm loving it."

The new music for the show is by Tom Snow, who wrote several of the tunes for the movie. The lyrics are by Dean Pitchford, who is also co librettist with Bobbie and wrote the lyrics for the movie as well as its screenplay. But Footloose is not just about dance. And Footloose the musical is not just Footloose the movie brought to the stage. "We decided early on that what we were going to do was use the movie as the source for the musical," Bobbie says. "The movie had a great soundtrack, but it was not a musical. Nobody sang in the movie. To create a fully realized musical, we had to decide what the minister had to sing about, what his wife had to sing about, what Ren's mom had to sing about. In this show everyone sings."

Pitchford, who won an Oscar for his lyrics for the title song of Fame, agrees. "Singing makes the characters larger than life," he says. "Characters who only speak stay life-size. So there's a big difference between the basically pop music in the movie and what we've been able to do with the show. We've written duets and trios and quartets and contrapuntal work for five and six parts and big expanded moments that go on for 12 1/2 minutes and a 9 1/2-minute soliloquy."

But, Bobbie says, the show is also much more than song and dance. "The reason I got involved," he says, "is that I loved the characters and the story. It's a story about a young boy whose father walks out on him and on his mother, and who has been displaced -- he and his mother must move from Chicago to a new town and fend for themselves -- and who comes face to face with the moral center of a community, a grown man who it turns out has lost his own son to drugs and alcohol and who sees dancing as part of the cause.

"We have a young man and a mature man," Bobbie says, "both grieving, who come into conflict, with a tension that is the fuel for a great explosion. The law of the town was the result of the community responding to grief--they lost four of their brightest children in an accident after a dance. There are no villains. This musical is filled with well-intentioned people in terrible conflict. No matter how good the singing and dancing is, people still want a story. And I love the story of Footloose."

For Jeremy Kushnier, moving from the Toronto production of Rent to the lead role in a Broadway musical at age 22 is "pretty scary. It's such a big step." But, he says, the task has been made just a little easier because of the similarities he sees between Ren and himself. "I'm a lot like him in many ways," Kushnier says. "I think he's a bit of an optimist and a bit of a hopeless romantic. So am I. He likes to have fun. So do I. And he likes to dance. And so do I."

Ciulla, who hails from Brooktown, N.J., says he feels that his Broadway choreographing debut in Footloose was simply a matter of fate. "The biggest thrill for me in this whole project is that the movie of Footloose really changed my life," he says. "When I first saw it, 14 years ago, I said to myself that I was going to get out of my small town, that I was going to go to New York and do something, take a chance and go for my dreams. So to be choreographing the Broadway musical of the movie that inspired me is so amazing. It's like a circle coming full. It was meant to be."