San Diego Musical Theatre stages a sweet “Footloose” at the Birch
By Charlene Baldridge | SDUN Reporter
Fourteen years after “Footloose” became a sweet 1984 film starring Kevin Bacon and Lori Singer, it became a sweet 1998 Broadway musical. The reviews were mixed but the musical hung on for nearly two years and more than 700 performances.
When asked why the critics were so lukewarm, director and choreographer Robert Marra, who is currently staging the 1998 musical for San Diego Musical Theatre (SDMT) Sept. 28 through Oct. 14 at the Birch North Park Theatre, took a deep breath.
“That’s a good question,” Marra said. “I think critics are always harsh, and anytime you take a pre-existing film or book and adapt it to a new musical or a Broadway play, the critics automatically are more sensitive to the issue of, ‘Are they going to be able to make this work?’ It’s really hard when you have an iconic film like “Footloose.””
The musical concerns teenagers trying to blow off steam in a small town where rock music is shunned and dancing is forbidden. The dancing ban is particularly difficult for character Ren McCormick, because he and his mother just moved to the area from Chicago. Because of the insular nature of small towns, Ren finds it hard to make friends. He promptly falls in love with the Baptist preacher’s rebellious daughter, Ariel Moore, which does not endear him to Ariel’s tough boyfriend, Chuck, nor to Chuck’s friends.
Though we don’t learn it until later on, Rev. Shaw Moore has reasons for spearheading the town ordinance that forbids dancing. Because of Ren’s growing reputation as a non-conformist, Rev. Moore forbids him from seeing Ariel. Serious issues are addressed but because this is a feel-good musical, a happy ending and a lot of dance numbers are in order.
Marra, who staged SDMT’s “A Chorus Line” last season, said he believes that many in the “Footloose” audience will come because they love the film. He expects that others will love the stage production, too.
“You get everything from the stage show that you get from the film,” he said. “You’re rooting for Ren, coming to a small town with his mother because his father left them. You invest emotionally in the characters.”
As a director, Marra is invested in his characters and his shows. “You have to fall in love with the show, and you also have to find the truth in it,” he said. “I always tell my actors this: every single thing that you do onstage – whether speaking a line, singing a note, dancing a step – has to have a purpose and you have to believe that your character would do it. The moment you don’t believe it, you’re just doing a dance step.”
Marra started dancing in his early teens, but said he did not like being labeled as only a dancer, so he took up voice and acting. “Back then,” he said, “if you were a triple threat, you were a hot commodity. To do everything and be a guy meant you worked a lot more.”
Marra, who relocated on the West Coast around 20 years ago, said that his Ren, actor Anton Fero, has it all. “I didn’t know him prior to auditions. He walked in and it was one of those moments when all my directorial flags went up.” Fero, who danced in Lamb’s Players’ “Guys and Dolls” and recently played five weeks in “MixTape,” does have the talent.
“He’s the whole package,” Marra said. “It’s a huge role that carries the show. There is no area where you go, ‘Oh, well, I guess we’ll sort of overlook that because he’s giving us ‘x’ elsewhere.’ He’s charismatic; he’s very much a guy, rough enough around the edges while still having the ability to be the male ingénue. … You’ve got to emote angst, hurt, love, anger and fear with your body. That’s totally what Anton is.”
Fero and his wife Courtney, a dancer who hails from East County, moved to San Diego about a year ago to start a family. His parents, as well as hers, live in San Diego. Courtney Fero recently portrayed Hope in Moonlight’s “Anything Goes,” and takes the stage with her husband in the SDMT “Footloose” production.
Emma Degerstedt, who recently starred as Elle Woods in Moonlight’s “Legally Blonde” earlier this summer, portrays Ariel, opposite Anton Fero’s Ren. Don LeMaster is musical director and conductor.
Marra said he thinks “Footloose” is a marvelous adaptation of the 1984 film. “Dean Pitchford, who wrote the original movie – as well as a 2011 remake – approached the film as if he were writing a musical theater piece. When he adapted it to the stage, the songs easily fit in place because his dream came true.”
“Footloose” plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays through Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sundays starting Friday, Sept. 28. The show runs through Oct. 14 and tickets cost $26 to $52. Birch North Park Theatre is located at 2891 University Ave. For more information and tickets visit sdmt.org or call 858-560-5740.