Kick off your Sunday shoes! Footloose is coming to Western Reserve Academy this weekend in the academy’s Knight Fine Arts Center.
The three performances are Friday and Saturday, Nov. 1 and 2 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 3 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the door.
WRA is also hosting their fall Open House on Saturday, Nov. 2. Visit wra.net/openhouse to register.
This weekend’s performance is a first in WRA theater history, or at least in Fine & Performing Arts Department faculty member Midge Karam's tenure. It was, in fact, Technical Theater Director Brandon Davies' idea, who made the suggestion last spring, knowing it would suit the large cast Karam had in mind.
It certainly would - and did - meet that need, with a cast of more than 45 students in the production. There was even an opportunity to bring in performers new to the KFAC stage.
Even more compelling to Karam was how right and appropriate it felt to choose Footloose as this year's fall musical. The ebullience and energy of the '80s-themed, pop-infused show matches that of our new Head of School Suzanne Walker Buck, and the plot even bears a slight resemblance to Reserve's own narrative.
"It felt really fitting, once I met Suzanne," she said. "Footloose is all about joy and community and rebirth. It's about a community grappling with some big changes and how they find their way and move forward together."
The musical, unsurprisingly, follows the same story as the 1984 smash hit. After moving in from Chicago, Ren McCormack finds himself at odds with his conservative small town of Bomont. To his dismay, under the guidance of Reverend Shaw Moore, the town has outlawed rock music - and dancing! With the help of Ariel (the Reverend's daughter) and Willard (his new best friend), Ren sets out to shake things up and bring back dancing to a town still healing from loss.
Behind every KFAC performance is a full team working hard behind the scenes. Footloose will star more than just its talented cast members, but also the crew members, set designers, choreographers, production assistants and more.
Behind the scenes, a team of crew members is starting to come together. With the help of his Stagecraft class, Davies has been constructing multiple large pieces for the set. He's utilizing multiple levels and movable pieces to transform one stage into more than seven different locations.
"The show starts in Chicago, and then moves into the small town," said Davies. "From there, you have the church, the gas station, the exterior and interior of the pastor's house. There's a junkyard, a high school hallway, a gymnasium, the train tracks. It's a lot! We'll have to move quickly during a few of the scene changes."
For the performers, Footloose is full of its own challenges. Songs like "Let's Hear It for the Boy" and "Holding Out for a Hero" are recognizable hits, but nailing the four-part harmonies to create the rich, pop sound is not easy.
"Pursuing excellence is something our kids are really good at," Karam said. "It takes real effort and hard work on their part to harmonize, but then you get this reward. I can see it in their faces when they hear it and realize that yes, it really does sound better this way, as opposed to just singing along with the melody. They're enjoying that challenge."
If that wasn't tricky enough, try singing four-part songs while also moving your feet!
"The biggest challenge is actually being able to dance on stage at the same time," said Karam. "It just takes, you know, 940,000 repetitions to get it right. They're whipped by the end of rehearsals!"
In the midst of all of the hard work, Karam faced a different kind of challenge. In the beginning of the school year, she needed to undergo surgery for breast cancer treatment. But while she recovered, her colleagues took the baton; Donalee Ong and Conor O'Sullivan kept the cast on rehearsal schedule, and Katie Velbeck and Emily Barth designed the choreography.
Karam expressed her heartfelt gratitude and love toward the Reserve community, who rallied together in full support to keep her classes and rehearsals on schedule.
"Conor [O'Sullivan] has actually been working with me for the last three years," she explained. "He'll sit in during rehearsals and make suggestions, and together we can divide and conquer. Donalee and Conor both led line-reading rehearsals while I was out, which was amazing."
She also made special mention of the students in the production, many of whom showed their nurturing sides when she returned to rehearsal.
"I came back the night before Suzanne's Installation, which would have been less than two weeks after the surgery," she recalled. "That first night of rehearsal, a few of them kept coming up to check on me. They'd say things like, 'Are you sure you should be raising your arms? Should you sit down? Are you sure you're okay?' It was really sweet!"
She was proud to also mention a few other examples of students showing their dedication.
Noah Frato-Sweeney '20 organized small get-togethers with his cast members to run lines and rehearse particular scenes. A few students even designed their own choreography for some of the numbers. It was clear to Karam that everyone worked hard while she was in recovery, to make sure it's a show of which they can all be proud. She is happy to be back in KFAC and in Hayden Hall, and she is more than appreciative of all the support she has received from her students and colleagues.
"Working with them is, I think, healing for me," she said. "It's good to be back."