by Marty Demarest
When it comes to the Broadway stage, Hollywood loves to take what it needs, but it seldom gives anything back. While film adaptations from plays and musicals are driving forces behind the movie industry's dream machine, it's rare for a script to find its way from the silver screen to The Great White Way. Of course, there have been a few exceptions. Andrew Lloyd Weber managed to bring out the opera lurking beneath Hollywood's classic Sunset Boulevard, and there was the unfortunate Meet Me in St. Louis a few years back. But the most recent addition to that small group of stage pieces that have been handed down from Hollywood may be the one that manages to preserve its connection to its origins the best: that classic of pop-kitsch, Footloose.
Already staged to critical praise in New York, the show has recently launched a touring production that will arrive at the Opera House next Tuesday evening for a six-day run. The story of Footloose is straight out of a 1950s juvenile delinquent film by way of the 1980s. A young man named Ren moves with his mother from Chicago to the small, out-of-the-way rural town of Bomont. Shortly after arriving in town, he discovers that his big-city ideas of fun are seen as potential trouble by the conservative townspeople. It turns out that a few years earlier, there had been an accident involving some teenagers who had been out drinking and dancing, and the local minister's son was killed. Not one to allow his community to travel willingly down the road of sorrow and sin, the Rev. Moore campaigned successfully to pass a law forbidding dancing in Bomont. Now, with Ren in town urging the local teens to dance and celebrate, and the Rev. Moore's daughter Ariel testing her father's limits with her own rebelliousness, the town finds itself caught up in a struggle for power between generations.
The film, released in 1984, managed to capture the spirit of movies like Grease and Rebel Without a Cause, while fully reveling in the era of Reagan-omics and feathered hair. There were even a few twists on well-worn plot devices. Instead of a standard game of "chicken," the protagonist and his nemesis found themselves racing toward each other on tractors, while the pop anthem "Holding Out for a Hero" filled the soundtrack. And no one who saw the film could ever forget the sequence in which Ren teaches his cowboy hat-wearing friend how to dance to the tune of "Let's Hear it For the Boy."
Starring a young, rebellious-looking Kevin Bacon as Ren, with other up-and-coming faces Sarah Jessica Parker and Chris Penn, the movie also had another key element for success: a catchy soundtrack. Even if you had never heard the title song before, by the time the movie had finished, you could count on singing it to yourself for days. The song -- legendary for its unintelligible verses and single-word repetitive chorus -- anchors the stage version of Footloose as well, supported by the tunes from the movie, and nine other numbers written specifically for the musical.
Jordan Ballard, who plays Ariel, the daughter of the Rev. Moore, in the stage production, says that a large part of the musical's success has been due to the familiarity of the music. "The musical has the same plot as the film. And all of the music that you heard in the film, kind of in the background, is what we sing as characters. That's how it has been turned into a musical. And obviously there is a lot more dancing and a lot more singing. But all of the songs that you've heard -- 'Almost Paradise,' and 'Holding Out for a Hero' -- those great songs that you heard in the background, we actually sing as characters."
For Ballard, who joined the current cast in February, the most exciting part of the production has been the dancing, which is something that she was well prepared to do. "I started dancing when I was 2, and my mother was a dancer, as well as my older sister, so I started right off the bat, and I've been dancing since. But the show is very dance heavy. The dances weren't hard to pick up, but they are hard to perform. They are extremely energetic. Luckily, your adrenaline starts pumping because the audience is so into the show. But it still takes a lot of energy. Fortunately, it's a young cast. The majority of it is between the ages of 20 and 24. So it's a young cast and very energetic. It's been a blast."
So how does the musical manage to translate the era in which the movie was set onto the stage? As fun as the '80s may have been, a two-hour long trip down memory lane might be too much for some people. Fortunately, while the songs have remained intact, along with the storyline, a little tweaking has been done to the music to make it more contemporary. "It's actually more of a modern type of show," explains Ballard. "It's set more contemporary than the '80s movie version. And it has a lot of jazz, hip-hop upbeat energetic movement. So it's not so much '80s, as it is modern."
However, fans of the movie shouldn't worry that the appeal of the show has been lost in the translation. The cast is still set to look as colorful as a Rubik's Cube, and all of the major plot points have been preserved, along with the new songs, which serve to enhance the moments already in the story. "I have to say that one of my favorite moments in the show," notes Ballard, "and one of the most important moments, is when the character Ren -- the Kevin Bacon character -- gets the father to realize what he's done. And there is a moment where he goes back and sings about his son, and he realizes what he has been doing to this town, and how he has been keeping everyone from having fun because of what happened to his son. And that's a new song, and that's also my favorite moment."
As Kevin Bacon says in the movie, "Jump back!"
Footloose runs at the Opera House on Tuesday, April 10 at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 11 at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, April 12 at 7:30 p.m., Friday, April 13 at 8 p.m., Saturday, April 14 at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 15 at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $20-$39. Call: 325-SEAT.