'Footloose' dances its way into Adrian this week

ADRIAN -- As another lovely summer day wanes, area ball diamonds, soccer fields and golf courses are abuzz with athletes and spectators. But inside Adrian Elementary School, another group of people is just as enthusiastically and energetically en...

ADRIAN -- As another lovely summer day wanes, area ball diamonds, soccer fields and golf courses are abuzz with athletes and spectators.

But inside Adrian Elementary School, another group of people is just as enthusiastically and energetically engaged as they prepare to put on the sixth annual summer show of the Adrian Area Theatre (AAT) this weekend -- "Footloose," which opens Thursday night.

"Before we started the summer theater with 'Cinderella' in 2003, there wasn't a lot around here in this season for people who were not sports enthusiasts," opined Meredith Stanton Vaselaar, costume coordinator and publicist for AAT. "This is a terrific opportunity for adults who maybe haven't acted since high school or college, and for students who want a chance to see what theater is all about."

A multi-generational cast of 40 -- about half from Adrian, half from Worthington -- came together this year under the direction of AAT summer theater veteran Jason Olson to produce the dance-filled "Footloose," a stage musical based in part on the popular 1984 film that starred Kevin Bacon and Lori Singer.

The success of AAT's 2007 performance of "High School Musical," which drew more than 1,000 audience members to a town whose population hovers around that figure, prompted Olson to select another ambitious musical this year.


"This really is a dancing show, although it has some of the more difficult vocal parts we've done," explained Olson. "It's great 1980s rock music and we have some strong singers this year who can handle it pretty well."

Chris Lanes, who joined with Linda Kingery as a vocal coach, concurs.

"This musical is very high-energy, with the background music from the movie being intermixed into the story line and actually sung by the cast members," offered Lanes. "Of course, as with any Broadway show, the music was written for musical professionals, so there have been some challenges but it's getting to be an excellent show.

"It's a joy to see the cast open up and start belting out the music and having a good time with it."

Count Melissa Jensen, a Worthington elementary teacher, among the adults who hasn't acted since high school -- and then only as a Munchkin in "The Wizard of Oz." Jensen plays a small role as Eleanor Dunbar, with lines in a few scenes and chorus parts to sing.

"I usually only sing to myself in the car or to my kindergartners at school," admitted Jensen, "and some of these people are wonderful singers -- they're amazing. I find myself smiling when I turn on the music to practice, so I must like it, but I know I'm going to be really nervous."

Jensen's eighth-grade daughter, Morgan, is a chorus member who is well within her comfort zone with the dancing and gymnastics moves required of her part. There are other parent/child teams in the cast, as well, and that piece -- along with the multi-community cooperation required to put on the show -- provides a nice foil to the play's overall themes of generational conflict, community rigidity and general lack of communication.

"The message, I think, is about what happens when people fail to listen to each other, and the fictional community of Bomont is suffering because people aren't communicating," suggested Lanes. "You need to cooperate within a community to achieve things or to work through problems you have -- it's a strong message for anybody and everybody here."


Thai Hua, a 2005 Worthington High School (WHS) graduate, is featured as Ren McCormack, the outsider from Chicago who shakes up the conservative town by insisting it break its ban on dancing. Ren also shakes up the local girls, including the Reverend Shaw's rebellious daughter Ariel, played by WHS senior Lizzy Wetering.

"As with other characters I've played, Ariel is someone I'm totally not, so it's fun to be out of my box," expressed Wetering. "Ariel can be kind of slutty and lies to her parents, and that's not me.

"I really like the singing part of it, but I'm not the greatest dancer out there," continued Wetering. "Thai is a great dancer and probably isn't too thrilled to be stuck with me."

But everyone has their challenges, and Hua, who was a high school wrestler and has danced in several of choreographer Kay Williams Prunty's The Dance Academy dance concerts, found his in the singing.

"I hadn't sung in public since my eighth-grade concert with Mrs. Anderson," confessed Hua, "but Mr. Lanes has done a pretty exceptional job helping me with the vocals. I've enjoyed the camaraderie with the people from Adrian, because before I only thought of Adrian in terms of sports rivalry."

Lee Stover, a 2006 Adrian High School (AHS) graduate and multi-sport athlete, is among the people Hua has liked meeting. Stover, now a junior at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, played Troy in AAT's "High School Musical" and this year is Chuck Cranston in "Footloose."

"Chuck is a bad guy who doesn't care what people think of him," detailed Stover. "I don't really like a lot about him -- I'm not like him -- but it's fun to act it out.

"My girl is Ariel, and Ren steals her away and there's nothing I can do about it," continued Stover. "Losing the girl has never happened to me in real life, either. I think 'Footloose' is about going ahead and doing what you like to do, whether that's sports or theater, and not letting other people stop you -- that's applicable in any life situation."


Nineteen-year-old Samantha Vaselaar is quite comfortable onstage, as she and Kaitlyn Konz are the only two cast members to have been in each of the AAT productions to date. In addition, Vaselaar is a sophomore theater major at St. Mary's University in Winona.

"I play Urleen, one of Ariel's friends," explained Vaselaar. "She's got a lot of attitude, but she's also really ditzy and boy-crazy. You could say she's kind of like me, but with less attitude.

"She gets to be around Ren a lot, and Ren is really cute, so that's OK."

Vaselaar is also amused by the vintage 1980s costumes her mother has pulled together, and recreating the 1980s "look" of big hair, leg warmers and straight-legged jeans is something most of the girls in the cast have relished.

But it's the dancing that is at the heart of "Footloose," and Olson credits Prunty with making it work for a cast whose dance talents range widely.

"Her choreography is dynamite, and Kay has really provided us something we can work with," said Olson. "It's going to look really good."

In community theater, participation itself is sometimes the greatest reward, given that stardom is not usually part of the deal. Just ask Hua, who, despite having the lead male role, wasn't recognized on the show's poster by his colleagues at Kruse Motors for nearly two weeks.

"The poster was up by the pop machine and they walked by it every day," recalled Hua. "One day, one guy said, 'Thai, that looks like you,' and I said, 'Yeah, that's weird.' Finally I told them it was me, and they asked, 'You act and dance?' and I said, 'Well, I try.'"


Promised Wetering, "He (Hua) is a great dancer, and 'Footloose" is good entertainment -- it's really cheap for all the great singing and back flips you'll see. It's very cool."

"Footloose" is sponsored, in part, by the Southwest Minnesota Arts & Humanities Council with funds allocated by the Minnesota State Legislature. Shows are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m., at Adrian Elementary School, Adrian; for tickets, call 507-483-2266 or email rebullerman A fifth performance will take place Tuesday, July 29, at 7:30 p.m. at Worthington's Memorial Auditorium; for tickets to that performance, call 507-376-9101 or email . Tickets for all shows are also available at the door.

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