Sneak Peek: At a Rehearsal for B'way's Footloose

News   Sneak Peek: At a Rehearsal for B'way's Footloose
Scenes and songs from the forthcoming Broadway adaptation of the film Footloose were performed for members of the New York theatrical press July 28, and Playbill On-Line was there.
The chorus of Footloose rehearses the title song at 890 Broadway
The chorus of Footloose rehearses the title song at 890 Broadway Photo by Photo by Joan Marcus

Scenes and songs from the forthcoming Broadway adaptation of the film Footloose were performed for members of the New York theatrical press July 28, and Playbill On-Line was there.

In 1984, the film Footloose, the simple tale of a rebel teen from the city who fights a small town preacher for the right to dance, hit big. In the US, the movie grossed $80 million with $34 million in rentals, according to the Internet Movie Database. In 1985, the movie's album was nominated for a Grammy for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture, while two of its songs were separately nominated for other awards: "Let's Hear It For The Boy" for an Academy Award and "Footloose" for a Golden Globe.

Those songs are going to take a shot at the Tonys when Footloose, the musical, opens on Broadway at the Richard Rogers Theatre Oct. 22.

At the press preview at the 890 Broadway rehearsal studios, the cast readied itself on the wings of a stage set marked by basketball hoops to the left and right. Director Walter Bobbie (Chicago) asserted that Footloose is not about simply putting the movie on stage, but rather is about adapting the movie as a creature of the stage.

The first number performed was the opening number, "Footloose", which begins in Chicago with Ren (Jeremy Kushnier) and his friends and ends in Boumont, the tiny town Ren moves to with Ethel, his mother (Catherine Cox). As the location moves, so does the number's style, finally ending in a gospel chorus led by Reverend Moore (Martin Vidnovic), his wife (Dee Hoty), and their daughter Ariel (Jennifer Laura Thompson). With Ren's entrance and the first verse, the cast broke into acrobatic dancing that evolved into flips, leaps, and turns.

Eventually, Ariel and Ren come to fall in love -- under a train trestle. Ariel goes there for privacy, to write poetry under the train tracks. All of her poetry is about Bobby, her brother who was killed in a car accident brought on by drinking and dancing -- the accident that prompted her father to lead a successful campaign to ban dancing in the town. They realize their growing attraction in the duet, "Almost Paradise".

The final number was the second act opener, "Let's Hear It For The Boy", sung by Rusty (Stacy Francis) to her boyfriend, Willard (Tom Plotkin), as she discovers in a country-western bar that Willard can't dance. The boys and girls of the chorus help him out and, by the end of the number, Willard manages some steps.

The producers, Dodgers-Endemol Productions, approached director Bobbie with the piece several summers ago before he had begun rehearsals on Chicago. Bobbie knew Footloose's lyricist and co-librettist, Dean Pitchford, from a time in the 70's when both were acting, and signed on to the project.

Readings and rewrites evolved into a full workshop in 1997 which became the piece now about to premiere.

"It just seemed like an idea I wanted to develop," Bobbie said. "To see if we could not put that movie on stage so much as use that movie to create a whole new Broadway musical."

Co-composer Tom Snow said, the show has been five years in the making, with theatre -- not pop songs -- added to the familiar score.

"We've added, I think, nine new songs," Snow said. "Really, now all the material that we added is very theatrical in style and in nature. We feel like we got enough pop hits for the show . . . there are adults in the town too, as well as the kids -- Obviously the kids have all the young and famous pop songs. We had to write some stuff for the minister to sing and his wife and Ren's mother to sing so these became more theatrical in style."

Among the new songs are "I Can't Stand Still", a first act mission statement for Ren, "Learning to Be Silent" a duet between Ren's mother and Reverend Moore's wife, "Momma Says", a comedy number sung by Willard, and "Heaven Help Me", a song for Reverend Moore.

Two of the big additions are numbers for Moore, who is not, Vidnovic stressed, the villain of the piece, as he was in the movie. Not that he would know; Vidnovic said he has never seen the movie.

Instead, he said, he's created a Reverend Moore who is a strong, well intentioned man who is trying to protect his community.

"My character is a totally passionate, compassionate, loving, caring man, who doesn't really understand why people don't see that I am really trying to help . . . I'm trying to reach out to people and lift them up at every moment," Vidnovic said.

Unfortunately, Moore does this by banning dancing and attempting to keep his daughter -- and emotion -- rigidly in control.

In "I Confess", the second act "eleven o'clock" number, Reverend Moore comes to understand that repressing dancing in the town is only his attempt to repress and hide from the painful loss of his son.

Vidnovic described the song's progression thus: "I'm able to realize that what I had been doing all along is counterproductive to spiritual growth. That's when I can admit to my congregation [that] I don't always have the answers; I did the wrong thing; we all have been holding on to a memory that has brought us sorrow. Let's let the children dance, let them be free."

One of the dancing "children" is Serena Soffer. She has to dance for four or five scenes with the biggest dance numbers, "Footloose" and "Let's Hear It For The Boy" at the beginning of each act.

The dancing she does do requires lots and lots of energy. "It's an athletic show. It's not your typical Broadway show -- it's athletic, but we've been training for it." Soffer said.

"You can't do it like this," she slumped. "It's not that kind of show. Either you do it 100 percent or you're lost. Or you get trampled on."

The chorus members are really called "the kids" while the other actors are "the adults" assistant company manager Marney Andersen explained. Even at the preview, the company divided along those lines, as "the kids" gathered in front of a TV camera to shout, "I'm watching you, CNN!" and "the adults" stood back, watching.

Lead "kid", Kushnier, seemed confident with the role of Ren and starring in his first Broadway show.

"It's exciting for me -- I remember watching the movie and thinking how cool Kevin Bacon was . . . I1ve been singing [the songs] for about 15 years - because I remember growing up on them. It's neat to come back and touch them again," he said.

Kushnier does bare a passing resemblance to Bacon, a comment he responded to with "Oh, well, thank you -- it's the hair."

His look, he said, was not modeled on Bacon's, but was his own -- including the thin sideburns shaved at mid-cheek. Kushnier said, "That's my play on the Kevin Bacon look."

Kushnier and the show will get a chance to try their look on an audience for the first time at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC Aug. 25. Footloose will run there until Sept. 20. On Oct. 2, it will have its first New York preview and Oct. 20, Footloose will open on Broadway.

Plans for Footloose already include a tour which debuts in Cleveland Dec. 15. No casting has been announced for the tour.

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