Sunday, January 10, 1999

'Footloose' took long road to Broadway




BY JACKIE DEMALINE
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Let's hear it for the boy . . .

        No, not Kevin Bacon, who got a small town dancing on screen in Footloose back in 1984 to a killer soundtrack that included “Dancing in the Sheets,” “Almost Paradise,” “Holding Out for a Hero,” the can't-help-rockin'-to-the-beat title song and “Let's Hear It for the Boy.”

        Fifteen years later, Footloose has transferred from screen to Broadway (and touring) stage, and the guy responsible for getting it both places is Dean Pitchford. Footloose the musical opens its two-week Fifth Third Bank Broadway Series gig Tuesday at the Aronoff Center.

        So let's hear it for Mr. Pitchford (one degree of separation from Kevin Bacon), a kid from Honolulu who in the '70s went w-a-y east for a scholarship at Yale (English literature and dramatic criticism) but whose real plan was to get on a bus in New Haven, next stop Broadway.

        In the '90s he's turned to movie directing and has been writing and directing movies ever since. (A short film, The Washing Machine Man, made it to Sundance in 1992.)

        But oh, those '80s. That was when the poetically inclined Mr. Pitchford, “singing, dancing, cavorting and doing voice-overs” in the general vicinity of Broadway, decided to take up writing lyrics.

        He met Michael Gore, and they wrote Fame.

        Then came the Academy Award, the Grammy nominations and the massive sales, and it seemed like everybody wanted him to write songs. He did so, happily, and they went into more movies.

        Which set Mr. Pitchford to thinking, “what about an entire movie with songs? But I knew nobody was going to plop down and do it — so I thought I'd do it myself.”

        He read a newspaper article about a small town in Oklahoma where “no dancing” had been written into the founders' bylaws way back in the 1800s. Now the high school seniors (all 14 of them) wanted to have a prom and went to the town council to overturn the century-old edict.

        Mr. Pitchford went to Elmore City, spent a week “going to the high school, churches, prayer groups, the local barbecue haunts,” went home, and put a blank sheet of paper into his typewriter.

        Out came Footloose, about a city kid who incites triumphant, choreographic rebellion in a straitlaced small town.

Perfect high school play
        Mr. Pitchford collaborated with composers Kenny Loggins, Michael Gore, Tom Snow, Sammy Hagar, Jim Steinman, Bill Wolfer and Eric Carmen on the nine-song soundtrack which sold 16 million copies, spent 10 weeks at the top of Billboard's album chart and earned Mr. Pitchford the 1984 Songwriter of the Year honors.

        He (playfully) points the finger of blame for his Return to Footloose at Carol Schwartz, wife of Broadway songwriter Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, The Baker's Wife and many more). A drama teacher with a mission, she saw a stage adaptation of Footloose as the perfect property for high schools and community theaters.

        Mr. Pitchford resisted for five years and had good reason. The movie had taken five years of his life to get made. Once it was a hit, there was talk of a sequel, talk of a TV series.

        “I resisted all that. I was bleary. I was the person who'd been with the the project since the first piece of paper went in the typewriter. I was tired and tired of the material.”

        Then “five, six, seven years went by. I have a great affection for the movie and the characters” and there was Mrs. Schwartz, who wasn't taking his no for an answer.

        “So I thought, "how long could this take?' Six months became five years.”

Nine more songs
        Everything went as planned. At first.

        Mr. Pitchford popped the script in the mail to the Rodgers and Hammerstein Library, which puts out a catalog and handles rentals for stage properties.

        About six groups managed to rent the new stage Footloose before the producers at Madison Square Garden got wind of it. “They said, "Maybe you want to think about this a little more.”'

        They envisioned a production in the garden's 5,000-seat theater and an arena tour. The meetings started in 1995.

        Director Walter Bobbie who'd just delivered the mega-hit Chicago revival to Broadway, was brought aboard. He and Mr. Pitchford went to work in summer '96.

        “We re-wrote the book entirely and there were many more opportunities for songs,” Mr. Pitchford says. “We kept seven of nine from the film and added nine more” with collaborator Tom Snow.

        He re-inserted Footloose's second, adult plot line that had been dropped from the film. Originally, the story of the town's minister and his wife (played on screen by John Lithgow and Dianne Wiest) had been “substantial.” The scenes had been shot then left largely on the cutting room floor.

        “I'd always missed the true size of that relationship and now I had the chance to address it.”

Changed plot
        If the movie was about a boy who got a town dancing, the musical is about “a man who's lost his son and a boy who's lost his father finding each other.”

        The idea of playing Footloose in arenas was dropped, Mr. Bobbie went off to direct national and international touring companies of Chicago, which postponed workshops for almost a year.

        Footloose opened on Broadway in fall '98 and debuted its tour in December.

        Finally footloose again himself, Mr. Pitchford is engrossed in his latest project, in “pre-pre-pre-production” for his indie romantic comedy (working title) Unbelievable.


        IF YOU GO

        • What: Footloose.

        • When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday through Jan. 24.

        • Where: Fifth Third Bank Broadway Series, Aronoff Center for the Arts Procter & Gamble Hall.

        • Tickets: $33.50-$62 at the Broadway Series office, Mercantile Center, 120 E. Fourth St., downtown; the Aronoff and Music Hall box offices; Ticketmaster outlets; or call 241-7469.

       



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