AMANA — Take away the poufy hair and prairie prom dresses and “Footloose,” the 1984 film about a town where time stands still, still stands the test of time as a musical onstage. It opens Sept. 7 at the Old Creamery Theatre and runs through Oct. 1.
“As we talked about it with the design team, and especially with the costumer, it’s more of a timeless setting that nods to the ’80s,” director Sean McCall said. “I just didn’t want it to become a caricature of the ’80s, because what’s really at the heart of this, is the story of a town that has shut itself off, based on its grief, and how an outsider comes in who begins to challenge that and help them find their way back to life.”
That outsider is Ren, a Chicago city boy who moves with his mother to a small Midwestern town where dancing and rock music were banned after four teens — including the minister’s son — were killed in a car crash coming home from a dance.
Fitting into this conservative community isn’t easy, leaving Ren with a lot of pent-up frustrations to work off. Dancing is his favorite way to channel his energy, and he knows it could help his peers deal with their worries and anger. He proposes holding a senior prom, but the influential Rev. Shaw Moore is a formidable opponent for this apparent rebel with a cause.
“Rebellious” isn’t the right label for Ren, said Seth Hunter, who’s playing the role that made Kevin Bacon a film star.
“He’s more of just an outsider. And being an outsider causes him to seem rebellious to a lot of people in the town — but he’s just acting the way that he knows how to live, because he’s a city boy. I guess I can pull a lot of that because I’m a city boy,” said Hunter, 25, a Pittsburg native now based in New York.
“He tends to put his foot in his mouth a lot because he gets nervous — he actually says that in the play,” Hunter added. “He gets nervous around people and whenever he’s challenged, he doesn’t know what to say, so he says something really sarcastic, which comes back to bite him.
“He comes in loud, brash and used to being the leader of his friends’ circle in Chicago,” Hunter said. That’s not going to cut it in Bomont — until his seemingly rebellious ways attract the attention of the reverend’s rebellious daughter, Ariel. That adds another layer of conflict, but also helps Ren find his niche.
He’s hurting deep down, too, after his father abandoned his family, and as Ren starts to build a new circle of friends, they create a supportive family-feeling “that really rounds him out as a person and helps round out the town, itself,” Hunter said.
Katie Colletta, 26, a Rockford, Ill., native now living in Walford, plays a dual role in the show. Not only is she portraying the “feisty, smart” Ariel, but Colletta and her husband, Keegan Christopher, are choreographing the show. That’s no easy feat, since she said they have to “create dances that don’t feel like dances, until the catharsis at the end.” Her husband gets to play Willard, a teen with two left feet who just doesn’t know how to dance until the teens sneak away to practice some fancy footwork.
What Ariel’s father doesn’t realize is the very law he helped enact to “save” the teens in the aftermath of the town’s tragedy hasn’t allowed his daughter to heal.
“Her brother had passed away in the car accident several years ago, and she never got the closure, because her parents just don’t talk about it,” Colletta said. Ariel’s anger and frustration mix with a sense of “being stuck” in her small, closed-off town, setting her at odds with her father.
He’s really not a bad guy, said Ross Wheeler, 43, an actor and high school theater teacher from Yorkville, Ill., who plays the Rev. Moore.
“He’s the one that closes off the most at the beginning,” Wheeler said. “He’s certainly not dealing with grief, and I think that he represents the whole town in that way. Whether he’s the one not allowing them to heal from their grief or whether he’s the biggest example of it, I’m not sure. He certainly doesn’t help things move along.
“Because of that, I think that he’s a very caring and loving individual,” Wheeler said. “He wants his daughter to become a schoolteacher, just because it’s safe and close by and (he) can keep an eye on her. No ill intent, but he feels a strong weight — an obligation to God — to take care of everyone, and in doing so, he’s screwing everything up. ... He’s not a bad guy. He just makes bad choices. He’s a good guy inside.”
“Footloose” is following in the footsteps of last year’s production of “Grease” at the Old Creamery Theatre.
“We are trying to embrace bigger musicals, because we know people want to see them, and we love to tell those stories.” said McCall, 51, of Walford, who also is the theater’s full-time artistic director.
One of the biggest challenges for the professional troupe that brings in actors from across the country is finding housing for the out-of-town cast and crew. A dozen people are staying in the theater’s “cast house” in West Amana and others are staying with company members and supporters in the area. In essence, they’re creating their own community, which is something Hunter loves about working in regional theaters. That, and breathing Iowa’s fresh air.
“It’s nice to get out of the city,” he said, adding that regional theaters “breathe life and blood into artists.”
And the Old Creamery is hoping the vitality, energy and “explosion of dance” in shows like “Grease” and “Footloose” will bring in younger audience members.
“It’s a story that works for all ages,” Wheeler said, even if the young people in the cast weren’t even born when the movie came out.
“So yeah, it came out in the ’80s, but that story is true,” McCall said. “Even in my program notes, I say, ‘Maybe the most important thing we can take away from this is, stop putting the blame on other people. Reach out to other people. Communicate with other people. Find our commonality.’ God knows that’s a point that can resonate today. And dance, by God.”
“(And) have better proms,” Hunter quipped.
Also, Old Creamery Theatre has announced that for every ticket purchased between now and showtime for the 7:30 p.m. performance of Footloose on Friday, September 8th, they will donate $5 to the American Red Cross to help assist with their hurricane relief efforts.
WHERE: Old Creamery Theatre, 39 38th Ave., Amana
WHEN: Sept. 7 to Oct. 1; 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday
TICKETS: $31 adults, $19.50 students, Old Creamery Box Office, (319) 622-6262 or Oldcreamery.com
EXTRA: Saturday Night Dance Parties, following the performances Sept. 9, 16, 23, 30; follow the actors into the courtyard, where the bar is open and music is playing; free admission