Ziegfeld Theater Company gets ‘Footloose’ in Park City | ParkRecord.com

Ziegfeld Theater Company gets ‘Footloose’ in Park City

Aathaven Tharmarajah, left, plays Ren and Shelby Hovley is Ariel in Ziegfeld Theater Company's production of "Footloose" that will open Thursday and run for two weekends at the Egyptian Theatre.

Ziegfeld Theatre Company's "Footloose," which will open Thursday and run two weekends at the Egyptian Theatre, is important today because of the current social and political situation that faces the United States and around the globe, said director Dee Tua'one.

"I think that art and expression is what the world needs right now," he said. "With 'Footloose,' I wanted something that addresses racism and sexism, and that comes into play because there are so many times in this show when the women are swept under the rug."

That's the theme of Herbert Ross's original 1984 musical film "Footloose."

Story aside, the film struck a chord with the people of Utah.

“I did have a few people tell me that they didn’t want my casting...”Dee Tua’One,Ziegfeld Theater Company’s “Footloose” director

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The film — which is about music lover and dancer named Ren, who moved to a small town — was filmed in Lehi, Payson and American Fork.

Secondly, it was about a community that had banned dancing and rock music, which mirrored an idea that eventually led to the formation of the Parents Music Resource Center, noted for creating the Parental Advisory sticker, a year later.

Four years after its theatrical premiere, a musical, by composer Tom Show and lyricist Dean Pitchford, opened at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway.

While the musical has been performed countless times throughout the years, director Tua'one said the Ziegfeld production will stand out amongst the others.

"One of the things is that I feel like people are expecting something fluffy, but there is more to this musical and story than that," he said. "I wanted to bring the story out above the dancing."

Tua'one relied on his cast to do this.

"I had the luxury of being presented with a huge, talented audition process, and most of what I wanted to do was getting the cast to connect to each of their characters," he said. "I wanted everyone to think about the story they were trying to tell, and I wanted them to think of the journeys the characters are going through."

Ren, who will be performed by Aathaven Tharmarajah, is a "fish out of water," Tua'one said.

"He's someone who doesn't understand the culture of this small town," he explained. "And Aathaven, who plays Ren, is, in reality, someone who is new to Utah."

Tharmarajah, who is of Sri Lankan descent, fits that description, because he is also performing as a person of color moving to a small town that is predominantly white.

"Many of his early years were spent in India," Tua'one said. "Utah is a very different culture from the rest of the country. So, as a person of color myself, I'm biracial — half Tongan and half white — we both worked on how to address that issue."

Ariel, Ren's love interest, is portrayed by Shelby Hovley, and Tua'one knew she was right for the part.

"Shelby is so independent and such a strong person, which I felt was necessary for the character of Ariel," Tua'one said. "I wanted someone who strives for independence in a culture that doesn't give it."

Matthew Prince plays Chuck, Ariel's boyfriend and when Tua'one saw his audition, something seemed to click.

"Chuck is angry and insecure, and, not that Matthew is angry and insecure, I just felt that he could tap into those traits very easily," he said.

The comedy relief comes in the form of Willard, who befriends Ren.

Porter Birchum, who Tua'one has known for a few years, brings the character to life.

"I wanted someone who was a little awkward and kind of funny, and Porter came into the production with such a natural character, because he is like that in real life," Tua'one said. "He's a tall, fun and goofy guy that has this underlined confidence you don't expect. When I knew I was going to direct the show, I wanted Porter as this character."

One of the challenges Tua'one and the actors faced was making sure the characters didn't become caricatures.

"The way we did this was to strip everything back in the production, and I told the cast that they were going to present this play and that they wouldn't overcompensate or perform above the set, above the dancing or costumes," he said. "The sets are minimal. The costumes are not overt, so the actors had to find the realism of their characters."

Tua'One said the casting did intially raise some eyebrows.

"I wanted the production to be a little subversive, and it was hard for people to get over that hump," Tua'one said. "I did have a few people tell me that they didn't want my casting, but once they started to watch the production, they began to realize that this was how this play is supposed to be.

The characters are also fleshed out during the dancing and song sequences

"I worked with choreographer Kacee Neff and we came up with a plan that whenever there was dancing going on or when it was needed, we would turn it into a fantasy sequence or something that is integrated into these characters' daily lives," Tua'one said. "I also wanted as many dancing styles thrown into this as possible, because I wanted the story to show that there are different kinds of people. The idea was that when people are held back from expressing themselves in public it will still come out."

Tua'one said he feels the cast has the potential to show people who share a difference of opinion how to work together.

"We have become a family, because these shows are allowing us to express ourselves," he said. "We are allowed to let our opinions be shown into the world. And I feel that through art such as this performance, is a way for us to show this without coming at each other's throats."

The Ziegfeld Theater Company will present the musical “Footloose” for two weekends from March 22 to March 25 and from March 29 to April 1 at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St. Thursday, Friday and Saturday curtain is 7:30 p.m. Sunday performances will start at 6 p.m. Thursday tickets range from $29-$45. Tickets for Friday, Saturday and Sunday range from $35 to $55. Tickets can be purchased by visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com.