‘Footloose’ Rocks the House

Craig Jones, Sarah Busic and Tad Heitmann in "Footloose," at the Artists Theatre. Photos by Johanna Ellis

It’s toe-tapping, foot-stomping and rockin’ and rolling time when Laguna Beach High School’s performing arts students transform into small-town Texans in the musical “Footloose.”

Between the rollicking musical numbers, there is time to reflect on the trials of growing up and adults, who do their own kind of growing. In both instances, the cast is doing justice to the script and music by Dean Pitchford and Tom Snow while showcasing their talents as singers, dancers and actors, starting with the acquisition of an alien accent.

“A show’s success starts with the casting, deciding which students will read for a grown-up and who’s going to read for a kid and it gets more intense for musicals where you have such a variety of (vocal) ranges,” said musical director Roxanna Ward. “It’s tricky in high school.”

Ward did some stretching of her own by stepping away from the piano and into the orchestra pit, where she took the conductor’s spot, leading eight student musicians.

The production recalls the 1984 film that tells the story of Ren McCormack (Sawyer Pierce), a teenager who moves with his recently divorced mom Ethel (Kate Stewart) to live with an aunt and her querulous husband in strait-laced Bomont, Tex. Neither the relatives nor the town appear to have any use for the quick-witted city kid with a passion for dancing. It’s a passion that Pierce, a senior, is hoping to take to New York University, Carnegie Mellon or Emerson as a dance major.

Off to a rough start in this hostile setting where dancing has been outlawed, Ren finds his place thanks to Willard (Luke Dressler), the stereotypical country bumpkin who becomes Ren’s best buddy. Dressler, a senior, has clearly found his calling as a character actor.

The townsfolk also include a quartet of plucky Thurston middle schoolers: Noah Schucking, Joe Gallegos, Molly McMillen and Shelby Clark in non-speaking parts.

Tall, with exceptional gravitas for a junior, Jackson Tupy stands out as the Rev. Shaw. He is embittered by the death of his son and three schoolmates in a car crash on the way home from a dance, leading to the town’s ban on dancing. Karina Parker portrays his devoted, long-suffering wife Vi with moving empathy. “Learning to be Silent,” an anthem she sings with Stewart about women putting up and shutting up, showcased their talent for hitting just the right notes emotionally.

Parker and Sarah Busic who plays Ariel, the couple’s rebellious and ambitious daughter, last month sang in the prestigious American High School Honors Performance at New York’s Carnegie Hall. “It was quite an honor. There were 200 singers in the choir, 100 orchestra members and 100 band members from all over the country,” recalled Parker who hopes to major in classical voice either at Juillard or Carnegie Mellon University.

While dancing may not be sanctioned in Bomont until the show’s close, the moves of Ariel and the other kids that build to a peaceful rebellion against their elders’ strictures have been deftly choreographed by Tracey Bonner, a creative consultant to the Park Avenue Players and UC Irvine professor. Mark Dressler and Amanda Saunders, an actress with stage, television and film credits, co-directed.  “The show is both comedic and dramatic and is challenging on several levels,” said Dressler. “The seniors in the show will graduate with a diverse and challenging acting portfolio.”

“The spring musical always brings out the best of all departments and their disciplines,” said Ward. “The kids really pulled this one off.”

The show at the Artists’ Theatre runs March 17-20, 24-27, at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets: 949. 497-7769.



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