‘Familiar Show and Incredibly Relevant Story’

‘Familiar Show and Incredibly Relevant Story’

Westfield Summer Stage presents musical, ‘Footloose.’

From left, Noah Tajudeen, Lorali O’Byrne, John Poncy and Noah Kennedy.

From left, Noah Tajudeen, Lorali O’Byrne, John Poncy and Noah Kennedy. Photo by Bonnie Hobbs.

    Lorali O’Byrne and John Poncy portray Ariel and Ren in “Footloose.”
 By Bonnie Hobbs 

Shocking changes are in store for a big-city teen who moves to a small, rural town in the 1980s and discovers rock music and dancing have been banned there. So of course, he’s going to do all he can to rectify things – and in the process, he just might win the heart of the girl whose father initiated the ban.

That’s the premise of Westfield Summer Stage’s upcoming rollicking musical, “Footloose.” It’ll be presented Friday-Saturday, July 14-15 and 21-22, at 7 p.m., and Sunday, July 16, at 2 p.m., at Westfield High in Chantilly. Tickets are $17 at the door (cash or check only) or $15 in advance via https://www.etix.com/ticket/v/21130/.

With a cast of 53 and crew of 18, it features students from a multitude of local schools, including Westfield, Chantilly, Fairfax, Woodson, Oakton, Vienna and West Springfield high schools, including rising eighth-graders from Franklin, Stone, Rocky Run and other middle schools. Directing Westfield Summer Stage for his third time is Greg Stowers, theater teacher at Katherine Johnson Middle School in Fairfax.

“What’s special about this year’s show is that it’s comprised of veteran, summer- stage actors and those who grew up watching it,” he said. “And I’ve yet to see a group of students of this number so adept at singing, dancing and acting.” 

Stowers, his stage manager and technical director, husband-and-wife Sierra and Jack Lockrem, respectively, are all Fairfax County theater teachers, and some of the actors are their students, as well. Other members of the production team are Westfield High grads Mary Clare Bernier, in her ninth year as Westfield Summer Stage’s lighting designer, and FCPS music teacher Jon Blank, who’s the music director.

“I chose ‘Footloose’ because people are familiar with the show, and the story’s incredibly relevant – because, even today, we’re dealing with things like censorship, free expression and whether people should be allowed to be themselves,” explained Stowers. “It also shows a town dealing with a tragedy and eventually overcoming it by listening to an outsider’s perspective. And it’s a huge dance show that shows off the kids’ talent.”

Scenes take place in various locations around the town, including the church, high school, a diner and a honky-tonk bar. And, said Stowers, “Our incredible team of parents took my original costume ideas and created over 160 amazing, intricate outfits.”

Portraying Ren McCormack is John Poncy, a rising sophomore at Oakton High. A popular student at his high school in Chicago, Ren struggles to adapt and fit in with his new surroundings after moving to Bomont, Texas. “It’s a very small, strict town, and teens there don’t act out, even though they’re forbidden to dance,” said Poncy. “But Ren’s a big-city kid and dancer-boy. He’s also impulsive; and he knows what he believes in and isn’t afraid to speak up for himself and others.”

Enjoying his role, Poncy said, “Ren’s similar to me – we’re both dancers and opinionated. Although he's charming and charismatic, and I usually play supporting, comedic roles. It’s great playing the lead; there’s lots of lines to learn, but it’s fun.” His favorite song, sung by his character’s love-interest Ariel, is “Holding Out for a Hero.” He likes it because “It’s a roller-skating number the audience will love. There are lots of tight harmonies and athletic dancing, and it introduces Ariel and gets the show going.”  

Poncy said “Footloose” will appeal to people because “it’s lighthearted. It handles some serious topics, but audiences can expect to feel good, have a great time and a good laugh. They’ll also be impressed with our technical elements, including a stunning set and beautiful costumes.”

Lorali O’Byrne, a rising junior at Vienna’s Oakcrest School, plays high-school senior Ariel Moore, whose father, a pastor, encouraged the dancing ban. “Ariel’s fun-loving and smart, but also dealing with a lot of grief because she lost her brother in a horrible accident – and that impacts her actions throughout the show,” said O’Byrne. “She tends to be rebellious because she deals with his death by acting out.”

Saying she “absolutely loves” her role, O’Byrne explained, “There’s so much depth to explore in Ariel’s character. Her grief is in everything she says and does, but the audience doesn’t find out why she’s so sad until act two. So I have to show that without saying it.” O’Byrne especially likes the song, “I’m Free (Heaven Helps the Man),” sung by Poncy and the ensemble, because “It’s really empowering and unites all the teens in the community to take a stand for what they believe in.”

O’Byrne said attendees will love the singing and dancing in the big, group numbers. “It’s a beautiful story – serious but also fun,” she added. “I think people will leave feeling excited and will want to get out of their seats and dance because it’s such a lively, entertaining show.”

Portraying Rev. Shaw Moore is new Woodson High grad Noah Tajudeen. “He’s jaded, deeply hurt and guarded, and he’s really protective of his daughter because of his son’s death,” said Tajudeen. “And as a reverend, he wants to protect the town from danger and spiritual intruders such as dancing and frivolity. He has a lot of love; but after losing his son, he has a hard time showing it and has become like a wall.”

Tajudeen likes playing him because “I can channel his serious nature into more classical singing in my songs. I get to play someone with a backstory, and I have to try to justify his actions so they’re earnest and sincere. My favorite song is ‘Heaven Help Me,’ which I sing. In it, the reverend tells the audience, for the first time, why he’s the way he is. He explains he’s trying to save Ariel, while understanding where she’s coming from – and he’s asking the Lord for advice.”

Calling the talent in “Footloose” remarkable, Tajudeen said, “We took the collective talent from around the county and channeled it into one impassioned, fun, summer show. And the audience will also enjoy the energetic and vibrant choreography.”

Noah Kennedy, a rising senior at South Lakes High, plays Willard Hewitt, Ren’s best buddy and first close friend at his new high school. “Willard’s a country bumpkin and a southern sweetheart who loves his mama,” said Kennedy. “But he’s also hotheaded, with strong viewpoints, and sticks to his guns. But although he’s easy to anger, he’s still a nice guy.”

Kennedy loves his part because “Willard’s a comedic character who makes everyone laugh, and I like playing someone who makes people feel good. He’s just a natural, homegrown, country boy who’s a bundle of joy and really funny.” Kennedy especially likes Willard’s song, “Mama Says,” because “he sings about his mama and gives Ren the advice she gave him. It’s not wrong advice, but it’s hilarious.”

As for “Footloose” overall, said Kennedy, “The way we’re doing the dancing and singing will make people’s hearts glow when they’re watching it. Our production is different from other shows because you almost forget that you’re seeing a play – you feel like you’re actually viewing what’s happening in Bomont.”