From movie to musical to movie – back and forth goes “Footloose.” Right now, with the release of a new movie version showing on hundreds of screens across the country, attention is being paid to the changes made to bring a 1984 movie up to the expectations of a 2011 multiplex cinema audience.
New director/screenwriter Craig Brewer placed a horrendous car crash in the opening segment – something that was apparently done to stake a claim from the very beginning that this would not be a mere re-shooting of the original movie’s script.
It accomplishes more than this, however. It accomplishes something that Walter Bobbie knew was necessary way back in 1998 when he joined with the movie’s screenwriter, Dean Pitchford, to create a Broadway musical based on Pitchford’s story using most of the movie’s musical numbers.
Bobbie and Pitchford had decided to keep the original simple story of a teenager who loves to dance moving to a small midwestern town where all dancing has been outlawed. But it was too skimpy a story for a full evening and needed the richness of alternative characters and subplots.
For the movies, it was enough to concentrate on the boy’s attempts to convince the town to change the law. The original movie, after all, lasted just 107 boot-scooting minutes, concentrating on high energy, and quick cut dance sequences. Little tension was built over the subplot of the local minister who, it turns out, engineered the ban on dancing out of grief. The ban had been enacted in respect for four teenagers who had died in a car crash on the way home from a dance.
It is that car crash from the past which cost the minister his son and the town its joie de vivre, that has been moved in the new movie from an event revealed in conversation late in the story to one shown in all its frightening detail at the outset. That change wasn’t the only one adopted in the remake. Here the new boy in town is an orphan rather than a new arrival in the small town with his mother who has been abandoned by his dad. The setting has been shifted as well. It is now in a southern rather than a mid-western town.
Both movies, however, have one thing in common – they don’t use song to tell the story. Instead, the simple story serves as the frame on which to hang over half a dozen songs in a zippy country-pop-rock style. Songs like its title tune were written by Pitchford and Kenny Loggins, “Holding Out for a Hero” by Pitchford and Jim Steinman and “Almost Paradise” by Pitchford and Eric Carmen.
All of these were songs the kids danced to. Nobody sang what was in their heart or for that matter what was on their mind. In order to make a stage musical, however, songs that reveal character and move the plot along were required.
The Broadway version had songs for the reverend (“Heaven Help Me”). There were songs for the footloose boy (“I Can’t Stand Still” and “Dancing is Not A Crime”). There was even a heartfelt solo for the reverend’s wife (“Can You Find it in Your Heart?”) and a revealing duet for her to sing with the boy’s mother (“Learning to be Silent”). There was a comment song for the high school kids (“Somebody’s Eyes”) and a comedy song for the boy’s sidekick (“Mamma Says”). Still, even with a teen-romance story, a generational-confrontation story and an anguished-father-learns-his-lesson story, dancing continued to be the primary activity on stage.
While the music in the new movie, just as the music in the original, is an enjoyable collection of zippy dances, that is all it is. The Broadway musical’s score, on the other hand, with lyrics by Pitchford and music by Tom Snow, has emotional depth as well as musical excitement. Pitchard and Snow kept the zippy stuff while adding the rest.
The Original Broadway Cast recording of the score with Jeremy Kushnier, Jennifer Laura Thompson, Dee Hoty and Tom Plotkin went out of print when its label, Q Records, closed down in the early 2000s. But Ghostlight Records has filled the void, issuing the album with one new track, a song titled “Still Rockin’” which was cut after the pre-Broadway tryout at Washington DC’s Kennedy Center. They got Hunter Foster to record the piece under the show’s original conductor, Doug Katsaros.
It can be ordered directly from Ghostlight for $14.99 by going online to their site at www.sh-k-boom.com. It can also be downloaded directly from I-Tunes for $11.99.