Footloose: The Musical
NEW ULM – Students at New Ulm High School will be losing their blues and kicking off their Sunday shoes in the school’s upcoming performance of “Footloose: The Musical.”
The play is a stage adaptation of the 1984 hit film “Footloose,” which starred Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer and John Lithgow. New Ulm High School will host three performances – Friday and Saturday, Nov. 22 and 23 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 24 at 3 p.m. – at the District Administrative Center on Center Street in New Ulm.
Gary Macki, the musical coordinator for the performance, said he chose “Footloose” because of its relevance and appeal to the students, among other factors.
“I thought the interest would be there for kids to be involved,” Macki said. “It has great singing and great dancing, [with] songs that I think the kids are familiar with.”
Ever since the cast list was chosen in September, the students have been hard at work rehearsing for the show’s performances.
The show’s choreographer, Gary Sassenberg, has challenged the students with intense practices, dissecting the intricacies of the dance moves within the show, but has done so with much success.
“It’s a challenging show for high school, however I think they’ve done a remarkable job,” Sassenberg said. “They’ve been so fun to work with.”
Sassenberg, who has worked with “Footloose” in the past, said it is, above all else, a dance show.
“This does not of course mean singing and acting aren’t as important, but there is heavy emphasis on dance in this show,” Sassenberg said. “It’s one production number after another.”
The show is loosely based off the events that took place in Elmore City, Okla., where dancing was banned for more than 100 years before being re-legalized in 1980. In “Footloose,” dancing is banned in the rural town of Beaumont for fear of ushering in a culture of recklessness and religious defiance.
NUHS senior Clay Sletta plays the lead role of Ren McCormick, a Chicago-raised teen who spearheaded the effort to lift the ban in Beaumont. Sletta said he has been involved in school plays before, but this is his first with a lead role.
“It’s daunting, but at the same time it’s just really fun,” Sletta said.
Alongside the play’s female lead Ariel Moore, played by Jenna Britz, Sletta receives much of the spotlight in dancing, singing and acting. Sletta said Sassenberg’s expectations have helped the cast go above and beyond in preparation for the show’s performances.
“Our dancing is super-intense, but super-fun,” Sletta said. “[Sassenberg] expects 100 percent of our effort for every rehearsal. I think because of that, it’s going to make our show really great.”
Sletta butts heads with junior Levi Wick’s character, Rev. Shaw Moore, the main antagonist who is responsible for the ban on dancing in Beaumont.
For Wick, playing the role as the lead antagonist is an opportunity he enjoys.
“It’s such a different kind of role to play,” Wick said. “It’s much more serious than a lot of the other roles. I’ve really enjoyed having that kind of authority on stage.”
Wick plays alongside senior Bridget Forst, who dressed the part of Shaw’s wife Vi. Having taken part in every school play in high school, Forst has developed a multitude of experience and said even though she has a big role, no one role is more important than the other in “Footloose” because of the exuberance required of everyone on stage.
“We have the main cast, but to me everybody’s equally important,” Forst said. “Without one person, this whole play, we couldn’t do it at all. When you have one person gone, it really affects practices, it really affects everything. Everyone has an equally important role.”
The play’s drama director, Wendy Tuttle, said one of the most fulfilling aspects of school performances is the opportunity to “get to become somebody else” on stage.
“You get to walk in somebody else’s shoes,” Tuttle said. “Most of these kids are not acting like themselves, there’s nobody typecasted.”
The musical, especially one as challenging as “Footloose,” requires cast members to sing, dance and act – sometimes simultaneously. Macki said even the cast’s best actors have been challenged in their two months of rehearsing.
“It’s the only time you use all three areas of your brain,” Tuttle said. “And the type of commitment carries over into everything.”
Commitment is one of the main facets of perfecting the performance for the students, who have answered the challenge of rehearsing while partaking in other school activities and athletics.
“Sundays, you just don’t want to come to practice,” said junior Emma Vranich, who plays one of the lead female roles of Rusty. “You have zero energy, so you just need to get here and you just need to be ready to dance and get into it. Then you just forget about how tired you are and just really go at it all the way.”
With less than one week until the curtain opens, Vranich said the cast is on the fine line of nervousness and excitedness. Learning to control that anxiety is key to performing well on stage.
“You have to [think] in the back of your head, ‘OK, I have to give 100 percent this whole week so our performance is as best as we can have it,'” Forst said. “If you don’t give that 100 percent, you let your anxiety take it over and it really isn’t going to be what it can be.
“It’s nerve-racking, but once we all pull together and you know what you’re doing, it gets to be fun.”
The curtain opens for the NUHS production of “Footloose” at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 22 at the District Administrative Center – formerly the New Ulm Middle School – on Center Street in New Ulm.
“The first performance is my favorite because we finally get to show other people what we’ve been working for so long on and putting our effort into,” Wick said.
From there, the students will host two more performances on the following Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets range for $8 to $12 and can be purchased at the door one hour before the show.
“We’re nevous, but it’s a mixture of nervousness and excitement,” Sletta said. “We just can’t wait to perform.”