Lakeville youth theater company brings 'Footloose' to the stage

  • Article by: LIZ ROLFSMEIER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 15, 2014 - 2:00 PM

A Lakeville youth theater company is bringing the Kevin Bacon classic to the stage this month.

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From left, Mackenzie Thelen, 15, of Eagan; Maddie Railton, 13, of Lakeville; Jack Johnston, 16, of Mendota Heights, and Taylor Rients, of Eagan, 15, rehearsed for the upcoming production of “Footloose,” to be put on by The Play’s the Thing youth theater group at the Lakeville Area Arts Center.

Photo: Liz Rolfsmeier • Special to the Star Tribune,

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It’s been 30 years since Kevin Bacon drove into a warehouse, popped a cassette tape into his car’s stereo, smacked his steering wheel in frustration and then proceeded to angrily dance his troubles away.

That iconic scene is not actually in The Play’s the Thing’s upcoming production of “Footloose,” which runs March 21 to March 30 at the Lakeville Area Arts Center. Nor, for obvious logistical reasons, is the game of chicken on tractors.

“Though, wouldn’t that be fun?” said Dayna Railton, who directs the show.

But the stage musical, Railton said, otherwise follows the film pretty closely, and its themes and spitfire characters still resonate with young people.

“Ren’s pretty rebellious and is a leader, and I like that about him,” said Jack Johnston, 16, of Mendota Heights, who plays the Chicago teen who moves to a small town where he rallies teens against the town’s dancing ban so they can have a senior prom.

“The biggest message of the show,” he said, “is if you put your heart into something, you can do it. If you believe in something enough, you can make it happen.”

The story, reportedly inspired by events in the little town of Elmore City, Okla., which lifted its 100-year ban on dancing in 1980, has maintained its popularity over the years, with a musical version opening on Broadway in 1998 and a film remake in 2011.

Railton said the theater company had to think outside the box to cast the cranky, authoritative adults. “The kids kind of told me,” she said, “‘We are not going to play adults in ‘Footloose.’ ”

So they decided to solicit real adults to take on the roles, not something the children’s theatre company usually does. David Tuma of Bloomington took on the role of the closed-minded Reverend Shaw. Tuma, who works at Prior Lake High School, where students put on the production two years ago, said the students enjoy it because it’s more modern than some of the classic musicals they do.

“I’m unfortunately not a very good dancer,” he said, “but fortunately I have a very patient wife on stage.”

Neil Thelen, of Eagan, who plays the high school coach, echoed the sentiment: “I [only] do a little bit of dance, which is good, because that is not my forte.”

Thelen made sure to get the go-ahead from his daughter Mackenzie, 15, who is also in the play, before signing on, but he said it seems to be going well.

“She’s been giving me some tips,” he said.

For him, the play inspires nostalgia. “When I was working on the radio in the ’80s, those were the hits they played,” he said, citing the songs like “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” and “Almost Paradise.”

Railton said she has always loved the film and has been enjoying hunting down ’80s costumes. “This is my era,” she said. There’s plenty of acid wash out there, she said, and she just bought her last pair of cowboy boots.

Tuma said the kids are enjoying picking out costumes for the prom scene. “Lots of poofs and ruffled tuxes,” he said.

Some young actors are even attempting to grow their hair into mullets by showtime. “One of my boys,” Railton said, “is trying for that really hard.”

“We’ve been moussing our hair and doing a lot of feathering,” she said.

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