July 17--They're kicking off those Sunday shoes again -- at the Ivoryton Playhouse in Essex, where the stage version of the iconic 1980s movie "Footloose" is being presented through Sunday, July 28.
The 1996 Broadway show was one of the first to convert a recent hit movie into a theater piece, with a beefed-up story that turns the cardboard adult villains of the original into three-dimensional characters.
The movie "Footloose" pitted rebellious teens against older folks who decided to ban all dancing in the fictional small town where the story is set.
Ivoryton Playhouse executive director Jacqueline Hubbard believes the changes in the source material are what give the stage "Footloose" a much broader appeal than the film which was aimed at teenagers.
"The thing that has been remarkable about 'Footloose' so far is the number of families who have seen it. What's great is that it doesn't alienate the older audience," Hubbard said.
In the movie, the minister who steamrolled the town council into the dancing ban was played as a blustery villain by John Lithgow.
For the show, lyricist Dean Pitchford and composer Tom Snow gave the reverend two songs, "On Any Sunday" and "Heaven Help Me," that explain his motivation.
"The show works. The song that the reverend sings about his relationship with his son makes him come across as very human," the executive director said.
The core of "Footloose," however, is the same up-tempo music and youthful dance energy that powered the 1984 hit.
The stage version uses most of the songs that dominated the pop charts 29 years ago, including "Let's Hear It for the Boy," and the infectious title tune with its call to get up and dance.
The original Broadway version of "Footloose" ran four years, no doubt helping to inspire the producers of such subsequent pop music hits as "Mamma Mia!"
"What's great about 'Footloose' is that it has a story, which a lot of the newer shows don't," Hubbard said.
"Revues are fun, but that (format) can get old fast," she added of shows that simply string together pop songs without a real story to tell.
Ivoryton Playhouse is one of the oldest theaters in the state of Connecticut, with a fabled history that includes plays with such stars as Marlon Brando and Tallulah Bankhead.
Hubbard has been running the theater since 1991, facing the dual challenge of finding shows that work on the compact Ivoryton stage and housing the professional actors, most of whom are from New York City.
"We do have some terrific local actors but most of them are from New York and have no housing and no cars," Hubbard said, adding that she will be facing an especially challenging period when the production of "Footloose" overlaps with rehearsals for the next show, "Dreamgirls."
"We have to find housing for another 22 actors. People run when they see me coming," Hubbard said, laughing. "They know I will be asking them to take an actor for a week."
The executive director is looking forward to the production of "Dreamgirls," which she believes will have a whole new feeling in a more intimate staging.
"I won't add a musical to our schedule unless I have a director with a vision for doing it here, and Larry (Thelen) has come up with a very simple approach, with minimal sets, but beautiful costumes and lighting. We have a lot of great young talent in the cast and I think it will work," she said.
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Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 N. Main St., Essex. Through July 28. Thursday, July 18 at 7:30 p.m., Friday, July 19 and Saturday, July 20 at 8 p.m., Sunday, July 21 at 2 p.m., and Wednesday, July 24 at 2 and 7:30 p.m. 860-767-7318. www.ivorytonplayhouse.org
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