UNION, NJ — Tonight is opening night of Union High School Performing Arts Company’s production of “Footloose,” the musical based on the popular 1984 movie about a teenage boy who shakes up a small town with his rock music and dancing.
Directed by James Mosser, with choreography by Jennifer Williams, the production features a talented group of UHS students who will bring acting, music and dancing to the stage.
Williams, who is also one of the organizers of Union’s Got Talent, told LocalSource that the theater company wanted to put on a show that challenged its players. “Each year we look to produce a show that will be a new challenge for our students,” Williams said in an email. “With a show like ‘Footloose,’ we are able to dive into this great story about a community coming together, and that’s what we want for our own town. A chance to come out for two hours and enjoy live entertainment, performed by some of the hardest working teenagers I know. Plus, for me, it’s really exciting to do a show with really great dance numbers.”
Music is one of the highlights of the production, said Williams, with popular songs from the ’80s that will get audience members out of their seats. “Some of my favorite songs from the ’80s are featured, including, ‘Let’s Hear it for the Boy,’ ‘Holding out for a Hero,’ and ‘Almost Paradise,’” said Williams. “The list goes on and on. I can promise not only a heartfelt story, but rocking music that is sure to get the audience out of their seat.”
Mosser said he believes it is important for students to get a wide range of experiences with different types of material. “‘Footloose’ serves as a great contrast to our spring musical, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s, ‘Cinderella,’” Mosser told LocalSource. “It also gives our students a chance to work on being in a modern musical that requires them to sing some of these iconic songs. We also believe that audiences will really enjoy hearing some of these recognizable tunes.”
Mosser said that audiences will be thrilled with many of the visual elements of the production as well. “The visual elements of the show are very exciting,” said Mosser. “The show features some very impressive scenic elements and rock concert-style lighting. And, of course, there is a moving and heartfelt story at the center of it.”
According to Mosser, the storyline of “Footloose” follows the collision between Ren McCormack, a Chicago teenager, and the rural town of Bomont. “When Ren arrives, he discovers that not only is the town very different from home, but there is also a law that prevents anyone from dancing,” said Mosser. “He learns that the law is a memorial to four students who were tragically killed in a car accident after going out dancing. Ren sets out to change the law and help revitalize the town with fresh ideas.”
Williams said that the dancing is an exciting and eclectic mix. “In the world of dance you will see not only one, but two different dance versions of the title track, ‘Footloose,’ as well as a country western number, which is something we haven’t done in a long time,” Williams said. “We have a mega-mix that is performed at the end of the show which recaps all the great songs in one place. We are hoping to get the audience to get up and dance along with us.”
UHS student Alyssa Carbonell plays Ariel Moore, one of the main characters in the show, and she told LocalSource that she is excited to be a part of the production. “The UHSPAC is definitely well-known for our outstanding musicals, but I think that the elements that separate us from the rest are our amazing and unique choreography and dance within our show, as well as our focus to tell a story,” Carbonell told LocalSource. “I think it was fitting for our director to choose a show that could display this, and even give dance more meaning. I personally jumped at the announcement that the UHSPAC would be putting on ‘Footloose’ as this year’s winter musical, and although dance immediately comes to mind when you hear ‘Footloose,’ the musical is more of a story about dancing and how it is illegal, rather than a show where everyone dances. I learned this throughout my research and even more throughout the process of the show, making me even more intrigued and excited to be in it.”
Carbonell said the storyline will be very interesting to the audience, especially the conflict between teenagers and adults. “The conflict really pushes the story in the musical, and the additional highlight of musical numbers adds even more flair to the exhilaration of the conflict,” Carbonell said. “Teen angst and frustration with no escape soon begins to challenge the power of the adults and their power on the town. There are various powerful scenes in the play that capture this conflict of man vs. man, man vs. society, and I think our cast is going to display this conflict to thrill and excite the audience to see what happens next.”
Preparing for the production was quite a process, according to Carbonell. “The process of the show was absolutely fascinating,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve sung songs and danced dances as well as performed song and dance at the same time, but I’ve never sung solos before and much more, acted. It was such an interesting and amazing learning process for me to grow as an actress and I loved every part of it. It was definitely a process juggling so many things at once, between music rehearsals, dance rehearsals, staging rehearsals on top of school work, but I continue to push myself to achieve my goals and even achieve things I never have before. Without the help and support of my friends at UHSPAC as well as my family and UHSPAC’s incredible staff, I don’t think I would’ve ever survived this process.”
Williams said that her involvement with the show has been one of the best experiences she has had working at Union High School. “This cast is so dedicated to their process and are eager to succeed,” said Williams. “They truly have worked very hard, and have been such a joy to be around in rehearsals. They are a great group of kids, I couldn’t be more proud. It’s really important for us to make sure our students are well- rounded performers. A show like this really lends itself to that promise. The story of ‘Footloose’ is really powerful and I’m glad our students are getting a chance to tell it. At the same time, it’s a show known for its high-energy music and, of course, dancing, so the balance is an exciting challenge.”
According to Mosser, the show demands a lot of the students. “They come from a variety of backgrounds; some having never done something like this in their life, compared to others who regularly attend dance schools or voice lessons,” said Mosser. “We typically begin with the basics to help catch everyone up. We also require everyone in the cast to help with the technical elements of scenery, lights, sound and costumes. We believe this helps them respect everything that they are interacting with, and gives them a chance to learn some valuable skills that they can take with them forever.”
Doing a show like “Footloose” is exciting for Williams in her capacity as a choreographer. “When people hear the title, they immediately think dance, so the pressure is definitely on,” said Williams. “I have always prided myself in taking students that have no formal dance training, and helping transform them into dancers that look like they have been doing this all their life. This year we welcomed a lot of new students to the company, and it was very exciting to take them on this dancing journey.”
According to Williams, students have had to maintain a rigorous schedule of juggling both long rehearsals and schoolwork. “They do all of this in addition to learning their music and their songs as well as maintaining all of their school work,” Williams said. “They handle themselves beautifully. I couldn’t ask for more. I always have my handy notebook by my side and I write down everything that involves a number first so I’m fully prepared when it’s time to teach. We start the process off by having dance boot camp, and then we dive right in. It’s important to maintain true to the original work, but we have our own unique identity that make us who we are, so that creativity is always very challenging and thrilling for me.”
Carbonell lauds several components of the show. “The show is filled with amazing scenery, lighting and, of course, musical theater,” said Carbonell. “The dancing is also going to be extravagant, with a mixture of modern club dancing with western cowboy hoedown dancing, so there’s something for everyone to like in this great show.”
The show is directed by James Mosser, choreography by Jennifer Williams, with musical direction by James Mosser and Melissa Abbate.
For more information about “Footloose,” visit www.uhspac.com.