‘Footloose’ dances into Dover High

The cast of Dover High School’s production of “Footloose” gets set for shows this weekend at the school off of Del. 8.  (Delaware State News photo by Dave Chambers)

The cast of Dover High School’s production of “Footloose” gets set for shows this weekend at the school off of Del. 8. (Delaware State News photo by Dave Chambers)

DOVER — Students at Dover High are cutting loose for their new musical as “Footloose” opens tonight at the school off Del. 8.

“We chose ‘Footloose’ because it’s modern and fun,” said director Janna Whitenight.

The production is based on the 1984 film starring Kevin Bacon. It opened on Broadway in 1998.

It tells the story of Ren McCormack, a Chicago teen who is in shock when he moves to a small Midwestern town where dancing and rock music are illegal. As he struggles to fit in, Ren faces an uphill battle to change things.

The conflict is intensified when Ren falls in love with Ariel, the local preacher’s rebellious daughter. Ren, Ariel and the town’s teens start a campaign to change the law and organize a dance.

“They’re loving it,” Ms. Whitenight said during rehearsal last week.

“It’s funny because some people weren’t as familiar with ‘Footloose’ because they’re younger. I think they liked being introduced to it and getting to know it.”

The cast size was a good fit, she said, and the modern-day costumes were convenient.

Debut dancers

But the show came with one obvious challenge: “Footloose” is a musical about dancing.

If cast members weren’t dancers before, they are now. Since December, they have worked tirelessly to memorize their moves.

“It’s just really cool to see the change and how they’ve all stepped up and learned to dance and sing,” Ms. Whitenight said.

“I just can’t say enough about how hard they’ve worked. They’re super dedicated.”

Some of the students, including Jake Schier, who plays Ren’s friend Willard, had never performed in a musical before — let alone dance.

“When I first auditioned for a singing role, I actually told Mr. Whitenight, the choir director, that I didn’t mind being anything,” Jake said.

“You could put me as a piece of scenery, a bush or something, as long as I was in it. I really wanted to do it. And I got to play Willard.”

The musical, he said, is definitely a change of pace.

“In a normal play, you just have to know your lines and you have to know where to stand,” he said, “but here you have to pay attention to other people and where they’re going and you have to make sure you’re on key and everything else.”

Teresa Emmons, the head of the dance program, planned the choreography, and a few students are helping too, Ms. Whitenight said.

The opening number and the finale promise to be “really fun,” she said.

Rose Slavin, a junior at Dover High School, is one of the leader dancers; she sometimes works with cast members after school to help them perfect their skills.

“That’s such a great part of being able to dance, to share it with other people,” she said.

Rose plays Rusty, Ariel’s best friend, in “Footloose.”

“I love the storyline. I love the music,” Rose said, “and our choreographer, Ms. Emmons, has been completely amazing in creating these amazing scenes that weren’t even in the movie.”

First musical at new school

“Footloose” will also be the first musical the drama department has staged since the new high school opened in August. It’s a big task to start from scratch.

For this production, the drama department has a new cyc, or cyclorama — a white panel in the back of the staging area that can be used to create different lighting and background effects.

“That adds a fun thing to play around with, especially with lights and colors and sounds — everything behind us going on,” Paige said.

And instead of a complicated set, everything is based around the risers the shop teacher Francis Cutrona built, Ms. Whitenight said.

The school has brand-new dance facilities, too, where students have working. That’s also been an adjustment.

“The dance room is smaller, you can’t wear shoes and then you go to the auditorium and you’re on the stage and it’s huge and it’s beautiful,” Rose said.

“And there are all these seats in front of you and there’s lights blaring in your face, and you can barely hear anyone because the stage is so big — and you have to wear shoes.”

Familiar music

“Footloose” is based on the original screenplay by Dean Pitchford. The music is by Dean Snow, among others, and the lyrics are by Dean Pitchford, with additional lyrics by Kenny Loggins.

The soundtrack to the movie “Footloose” reached number one on the Billboard charts and sold more than 15 million copies.

The stage musical includes, in part, the same top 40 score, along with new songs written for it.

“It’s probably the most fun music that I’ve heard from a Broadway show in forever,” Rose said. “It just cracks me up because it’s 80s classic.”

“Getting people to … smile and say, ‘Hey, I remember,’ like with the warehouse scene, I think that’s the greatest part of this entire thing,” she said.

Dover High has staged movies-turned-musicals before — think “The Wedding Singer” and “Hairspray” — but

“Footloose” may be the most well-known.

“Especially around this school,” said Paige Dugan, who plays Ethel McCormack, Ren’s mother.

“People come up to me and say, ‘Wow, you’re doing ‘Footloose.’ I’ve always wanted to see that performed.’”

Paige said that with this show, the drama department has never been more prepared.

“We have the best sets that we’ve ever had, especially with this new school,” she said.

“The sound is so much better. The mics are better. It makes it easier that those obstacles aren’t in our way.”

“Footloose” will feature an appearance by Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen and members of the City Council in the scene where Ren makes his case to the town council to allow dancing.

Performances are today and Saturday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. Tickets cost $8 for adults and $5 for students.

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