Theater department puts on “Footloose” under an unexpected time crunch


In the past week, the Naperville North theater department has performed this year’s spring musical Footloose a total of six times, in addition to school day previews on April 28. As the first musical back on stage in three years, it produced its own set of challenges as rehearsal time was cut in half due to a late-in-the-game title switch. These obstacles, however, proved to be nothing the cast, crew and production staff could not handle.

Footloose tells the story of Ren McCormack, played by senior Cole Phillips, as he moves from the city life of Chicago to the small, narrow-minded town of Bomont, Utah, where dancing has been outlawed. Ren, joined by new friends and love interest Ariel Moore, played by freshman Meaghan Inglis, work together to change the minds of their restrictive town by making dancing legal again. 

Suprisingly enough, Footloose was not the original title selection for this year’s musical. When first announced at the end of November, Disney’s The Little Mermaid was originally planned for production. It wasn’t until January, when Disney announced a tour of the show, that Naperville North’s rights to perform it were retracted.

Naperville North Fine Arts department chair and musical director Nicholas Janssen explained why the shortened rehearsal time led him to choose Footloose, a repeat of the first musical he directed at North in 2010.

“A lot of the rehearsal process and planning process with a show that we’ve not done before is understanding the nuance of the show and how we have to rehearse it…[with Footloose] the way the rehearsal schedule worked, I knew and I had a really good grasp on which meant that we could move through it really quickly,” Janssen said.

Even with a familiar show, stress amongst the cast and crew was still heightened as they worked with a six-week rehearsal timeline instead of the typical 12 weeks. This consequently rushed every aspect of the production process. As for rehearsals, Janssen explained that the cast would spend hours working on one number and not run it again until tech week to ensure all the show material was covered.

“We teach it, we learn about it, we feel good about it, then we spend the next four weeks working on other stuff and when we brought it back in tech it was like ‘oh it’s almost brand new again,’” Janssen said.

The cast and crew also felt the pressure of the time crunch beyond rehearsals. North junior Justin Bach, who played Cowboy Bob, said that anxieties were high as the technical aspects of the show were also affected by the halved production timeline.

“It’s definitely been more stressful than other shows. Everything was pushed to fit a very small window of time and that includes tech and costumes. I didn’t even get all my costumes for the show until the day before,” Bach said.

Despite the challenges and nerves the tight rehearsal time presented, Janssen says that it showed the cast that their abilities and strength were greater than they thought.

“It was a growth opportunity because it taught kids they are capable. When they revived certain numbers in tech it was like, ‘woah this is what we need to work on’ and they found really good moments in downtimes in rehearsals to make sure they felt comfortable and confident,” Janssen said.

By the arrival of show week, the cast and crew were tired from the dedication they put into rehearsals. Anna Buescher, an ensemble member and NNHS freshman, said that the promise of performing the show is well worth working through the exhausting process.

“I’m just looking forward to performing it again. We’ve worked really hard on it and it’s an amazing show so for me it’s just about pushing through before it’s over,” Buescher said.

Janssen attributes the students’ motivation throughout the production process to the opportunity to perform again after three years without a musical on stage. He adds that the time away has brought everyone together with the common goal of taking advantage of the chance to perform.

“They’re just one group of people that want to take advantage of an opportunity to create live performances and get to experience that. I think that has been something we’ve all worked towards and it’s created a really great energy,” Janssen said.