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American Stage getting ‘Footloose’ on its feet

Bill DeYoung

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Director/choreographer Shaine Stroff (at right) watches a dance rehearsal at American Stage Thursday afternoon. Photos by Bill DeYoung.

It’s been three years since American Stage’s last big “park show.” In April 2019, Mamma Mia! thrilled bay area audiences on the company’s temporary stage in Demens Landing Park. The 2020 musical, the followup, was close to the starting gate when the coronavirus pandemic lowered the curtain on theatrical productions everywhere.

That show was Footloose, based on the feel-good 1984 movie starring Kevin Bacon as dance-happy teenager Ren McCormack (“He’s the new kid in town … and the music’s on his side!”).

Two years late, Footloose will find American Stage returning to the park, beginning April 6.

Jacksonville-based director and choreographer Shain Stroff, working on his fifth American Stage park production, began rehearsals two weeks ago with the energetic cast of 22 (just four members of the 2020 cast are holdovers, due to scheduling and other conflicts).

During a weekday-afternoon dance rehearsal, held indoors at American Stage headquarters, Stroff talked about what’s involved in bringing such a large project to the Demens Landing stage.

“Yesterday we learned the finale of the show,” he explained, “which took us seven hours, because it’s a five-minute dance number. It’s 40 pages of music to learn.” The company works seven hours per day, five days a week.

The company will convene at the park site for the first time next week. “They’ve been working really hard,” Stroff said. “I’ve been pushing them really hard in this process. There’s a lot of choreography in this show.”

As told on both screen and stage, Ren has arrived in a repressed ‘burg where dancing is forbidden. All the famous songs are in the stage version, including “Let’s Hear it For the Boy,” “Holding Out For a Hero” and Kenny Loggins’ title tune.

Still, “If you go back and watch the movie, there’s really not a lot of dancing,” observes Stroff. “The movie doesn’t even hold a candle to the amount of choreography and dance that’s actually in the live version of the show.

“In the book scenes, the kids are the ones who dance. They are the expressive ones, bringing the light to the town. But the parents are so scared about losing their kids to rock ‘n’ roll, sex and drugs, all that stuff.

“When Ren comes to town, he’s a little weird at first, but he brings this fun, youthful energy to the town.”

Stroff finished the choreography for the doomed 2020 production just days before rehearsals were to begin. “I was packing,” he recalled, “and I got the call saying ‘It’s not going to happen. Everything’s shutting down.’

“I literally just took my two binders and put them on my shelf – and I stared at them for about a year and a half.”

Last year, he directed Footloose at Jacksonville’s Alhambra Theatre, where he is on staff as choreographer and associate producer.

That theater’s thrust configuration is decidedly different from the American Stage park setup.

“There are some things that I saved specifically for this production that I didn’t want to do there at all,” Stroff smiled. “And there were a few things that I wanted to try out – I liked it, or I didn’t like it, and I fixed it for this.”

All ticket information is here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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