Whistler Secondary School student Michael Finlay didn't expect to play the lead in the school's year-end production of Footloose.
The Grade 11 student initially tried out for the supporting role of Willard Hewitt, the best friend of main character Ren McCormack. But when no one auditioned for the latter role, Finlay decided he'd step up. "It kind of made sense because a few years ago I was the new guy, so I knew where he was coming from," he said recently, taking a break from rehearsal at Millennium Place.
Cast your mind back to 1984, when the original version of the film was released, starring a young Kevin Bacon. Though critically panned, the musical was a hit. The film featured Ren, the newcomer to a small, conservative town in which dancing and rock music have been banned. Keen to dance, sing and, you know, cut loose, Ren begins a crusade to repeal the bylaw and falls for a reverend's daughter, Ariel Moore, along the way.
"I see where he's coming from," Finlay says, explaining he moved from Ontario only a couple years ago. "Plus it's Ren's grad year, so he's really out of place. All he wants to do is dance and let loose, but the town is not letting him. He actually gets a ticket because his music is too loud."
The rehearsal music — lead by Whistler band The Sociables, who have volunteered their time as backing band — was at a reasonable level as students from Grades 8 to 12 bounded across the stage, just a week away from opening night on May 14.
Finlay said he's ready for the big night, but there have been some challenges along the way. "Learning the songs to sing," was the toughest part, he said. "I'm fine learning all the lines and I'm fine with dancing as well. I'm not an amazing dancer, but I try my best. But definitely the singing because the pitches of the songs are a lot higher than my voice can go. There's a song called 'Almost Paradise' that Ren sings with Ariel. The original version of the play is really, really high, so to get my voice up there is really straining."
Directing a school musical can be challenging too, added Sandra Droulis, who teaches the theatre performance program at WSS. There's the added elements of song and dance and the extra cost for rights.
"It's very expensive because you usually have to purchase the rights and licensing for major musicals," she said. "It can cost quite a bit of money. I think putting on a big known musical, because it's so expensive, is something you do once every two or three years, not every year."
Droulis arrived at Footloose this year in part because of its resurgence in popularity following the remake which features a soundtrack by country star Blake Shelton. "The kids really liked the fact that most of them can play teenagers," she said. "They also like the music tracks. They're fun to dance to sing along."
The group of around 45 — including backstage crew — has been rehearsing regularly since the beginning of the new year. The production serves as a final exam of sorts. "They're great," Droulis said. "They're a lot of fun. And it's nice to mix grades because (younger kids) get to know the Grade 12s and they work their way up. Usually the Grade 8s are in the chorus, but we do have a few that actually have roles this year. I don't discriminate against anybody for a role. It doesn't matter what grade you're in. Our female lead is only in Grade 10."
The play is running at Millennium Place for three days only, from May 14 until 16. Tickets for the shows are $8 for kids and $12 for general admission, available at artswhistler.tix.com. "We've already sold a lot of tickets," Droulis said. "The kids are working hard and hopefully people come out."