Given that the musical “Footloose” features a storyline about rebellious teenagers who just want to dance to their own music, it would seem to be the perfect show to stage with high school students. “Definitely,” says Lynda Keech, director of the upcoming production of “Footloose” at Highland High School. “I look at the students I have, and try to cast as closely to what I think will be the most successful. I have wonderful singers and they’re very enthusiastic.”
Most people are familiar with the catchy title song — betcha can’t read to the end of this paragraph without the song getting stuck in your head — but the 1984 movie starring Kevin Bacon is the best-known vehicle of the story. Keech says there are actually two versions of the stage play, one for high school students with the language toned down. “I try to keep it as G-rated as I can,” she says, adding that there are a few “damns and hells” but she checked with the parents of the students who speak those lines to make sure it was okay with them.
The story centers around a young man who moves from the big city to a small town to find that the local preacher has instituted a ban on dancing and rock music. When the reverend’s daughter sets her sights on the new arrival, her jealous boyfriend tries to sabotage the new boy’s reputation, with many of the locals ready to believe the worst. The story that emerges is one of a father longing for the son he lost and of a young man aching for the father who walked out on him.
The students’ theatrical group at Highland High School, known as the HHS Harlequins, includes participants from grades nine through 12 who are involved in every aspect of the production. Keech, also the director of choirs at the school, says the group generally numbers around 20 students. She undertakes the direction of the entire production on her own, so is understandably grateful for the students who help out behind the scenes, like student choreographer Sarah Kassel and assistant stage managers Shannon Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Ramsay. “We’ve always managed to find students who will do those things, but it’s not the same as really wanting to — they’ve really stepped up and been amazing at keeping things together,” says Keech.
As with the previous six shows Keech has produced at Highland High School in as many years, faculty members are included in small parts in “Footloose.” Science teacher Chris Sgro will portray a policeman; Highland Elementary School teacher Dana McGrath will portray Betty Blast, owner of the burger shop; and Roy Coates, a former HHS staff member and professional musician, will play electric bass.
The student cast includes Sam Porter in the lead male role as Ren McCormack; McKenna Gallinari as the preacher’s daughter, Ariel Moore; Julia Purdy as Ethel McCormack; Damien Stevens as Reverend Shaw Moore; Summer Bugbee as Vi Moore; Mary Jane Nelson as Rusty; Victoria Pflaum as Urleen; Victoria Purdy as Wendy Jo; Zane Sullivan as Willard Hewitt; and Sadie Mormon-Horn as Principal.
Several students play two roles in the production, including a few girls who portray male roles, which Keech says was not a problem with the students at all; when she ran the idea by them at the beginning of rehearsals (since she has more female students to work with than males), they were fine with the idea. Students with dual roles are Valentina Hurtado, who plays Lulu Warnacker and Cowboy Bob; Nevin Nedumthakady, who plays Wes Warnicker and other male extras; Shannon Thompson, who portrays Coach Dunbar and a female extra; and Julianne Shaver, who plays Chuck Cranston and a female extra. Student stage manager Elizabeth Ramsay takes an onstage role as well, portraying Eleanor Dunbar, and student Dan Russo provides percussion.
Keech also utilizes the skills of community member Paul Krystek as technical designer. “He’s worked on the sets for every show,” she says. “He’s been wonderful, and I could not ever have done these shows without him.”
Work on the show began in early December, Keech says, but because of the severe January weather they lost five rehearsals that month. “But the kids have been great about adding extra rehearsals and the time commitment and what it takes to do a show like this. It’s fun to work with them. Musicals are something I really love to do,” she adds. “I’m not so interested in the serious stuff; it’s about having a good time and being fun.”
“Footloose” is presented through special arrangement with R & H Theatricals, the licensing company that owns the rights to produce the show. Stage adaption by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie is based on the original screenplay by Dean Pitchford with music by Tom Snow and lyrics by Dean Pitchford.
Performances will be on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 21 and 22 at 7 p.m. at Highland High School. The snow date is Sunday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and students and children under age five are admitted free. All seats are reserved, with tickets available only at the door prior to each performance. Highland High School is located at 320 Pancake Hollow Road in Highland.