The Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) is set to kick off its Sunday shoes with a production based on the beloved 1984 film, Footloose.
The film, which was actor Kevin Bacon’s breakout role, told the story of a teenager from Chicago named Ren, who moves to the small town of Bomont and discovers that dancing and rock music have been banned. Award-winning guest director, Jason Langley, will make the journey from Sydney to Perth for his 15th WAAPA production.
“I’m attracted to underdog stories,” he says. “I love that it’s about someone questioning and sticking it to authority and that the lead character sees an anomaly, an unusual flaw in the town and seeks to address it. It’s a bizarre law that he doesn’t understand, and he rebels against it and actively changes it.”
Langley feels that the notion of activism implied in the story has stood the test of time, especially on a global scale.
“I think it’s a fairly universal story, sticking it to the man isn’t it?” he posits. “We’ve been living for the last 10 years in this bizarre conservative world where all the world leaders all of a sudden were religious conservatives. It’s like we’ve all been going, ‘what’s happened to progressive society?’
“In Footloose it’s the church having authority over the town council to ban dancing and Satan’s music… rock music. Although in the show it’s not the church doing it, because it really is about grief. It’s about how grief affects a town and how that grief affects individuals. The governing body in the Bible Belt town is the church, and the Reverend lost his son in a car crash. So he’s banned alcohol, dancing, rock music… that’s how his grief has affected him. And that has an effect on his family. His daughter has become rebellious and wants to break free and break out of the town.
“Grief has also affected the guy who comes from Chicago. He’s having to move to a small town because his father has abandoned his family. So he’s dealing with the grief of that and of losing his friends. Then grief turns him into a revolutionary.”
The 1984 Footloose film (a remake was released in 2011) has become iconic in pop culture. While treating a live musical production as its own entity, Langley says it’s important to pay the movie version some regard. As such, there will be plenty to revel in for fans of the original movie.
“I think we could totally ignore it, but the film is so iconic you want to give the audience a little something because it obviously means something to a lot of people. That’s what’s going to draw people in to come and see the stage show. And the stage show follows the film, but it does have to diverge a little.
“Obviously, the famous songs are there from the film. That famous, fabulous dirty guitar riff that opens the movie is in the show. I’m not setting the show in the 1980s because the musical was created in 2000, basically. There’s been new music written to fill out the stage musical, but all the famous songs like “Footloose”, “Let’s Hear It For The Boy”, “Holding Out For A Hero”, “Almost Paradise”, “I’m Free”… all those hits are in the stage show.
“And then it’s the music has been filled out a little. So the music sounds a little more early-2000s. And obviously with a contemporary cast, they’re going to bring a more contemporary sound to it. And contemporary musicians are going to play differently to what they did in the ‘80s. So I’ve set it in the early 2000’s which, fashion-wise, relates to the ‘80s. Fashion turns around every 20 years and goes back to the time 20 years before. In the ‘80s double denim was back in again, so the end of our show is going to be a double denim fantasy.”
Footloose will be WAAPA’s biggest production for 2023 and sees Langley working with musical director Craig Dalton and choreographer Jodie Bickle. The onstage Music Theatre ensemble will be backed by WAAPA Music, Production, and Design students. Langley, for his part, cannot wait to work again in His Majesty’s Theatre and has collaborated with the designers to create a set that is evocative of the film.
“A huge part of it is that beautiful Perth venue,” he says, “and we’ve made a nod in the set design to the film. If you recall, Ren dances through an abandoned warehouse on his own – that moment isn’t quite in the stage show in the same way, but it is in there.
“The set is going to look like a big old, abandoned warehouse with a big industrial fan and those small panes of glass that look like broken teeth. Metaphorically it’s the abandoned warehouse of the Reverend’s grief-stricken mind. That’s the metaphor for us, but the nod to the film is quite great as well.”
When beginning rehearsals Langley makes a point of asking his cast, ‘why this show, now?’ He feels that the answers they dig deep inside to offer will ultimately play a part in what the audience take will take from the show as they exit the theatre.
“I make sure we have a collective answer,” he explains, “so that we have something to work towards. The contemporary resonances in the piece become clear because if the actors know what they are, we don’t need to spell them out or hit an audience over the head with it. You just have to understand it and it will come.
“Of course, I love a big musical to be entertaining, but I love that there’s a bit more to hang on to, for an audience, if they choose to. I’d love the audience to come out feeling like they’ve seen some high-octane, high energy, dancing, singing, fabulous acting and that they’ve had a great night at the theatre cheering for the underdog.”
Fri 9 to Thu 15 June at 7.30pm; matinee Sat 10 June at 2.00pm
His Majesty’s Theatre, 825 Hay St, Perth, WA
Tickets $86 Full / $81 Concession / $79 Friends / Restricted View $50
Performed by: WAAPA Music Theatre and Music students
BOOK NOW: Tel: (08) 6212 9292 or online at: artsculturetrust.wa.gov.au