The lack of capable male leads in high school musicals is beginning to worry me.
Is it stigma? Are young boys afraid to express an artistic side in a sports-focused school? Whatever the reason, the disparity between talented females and males in Independence High School’s production of the classic musical “Footloose” on Feb. 7 was disconcerting for me.
“Footloose” follows the story of a Chicago teen, Ren McCormack, who moves to a small hillbilly town in which dancing has been banned. In his fight for his right to party, he befriends a boy named Willard and falls for a spunky girl named Ariel.
In this production of “Footloose,” the actor who played Ren, Collin Schmaldinst, faded into the background in comparison to the strong female voices. I appreciate his effort; he had obviously put his all into the performance. His acting, however, made finding his character realistic difficult. I found myself forgetting exactly who held the title of protagonist as Ariel and the supporting female characters outshone his performance.
The audience seemed to agree, and their uncomfortable silence after each of his songs showed. In the final dance scene, the famous leg kicks performed by Kevin Bacon in the 1984 film were lost on Schmaldinst; at least he seemed to be enjoying himself. His dedication made me feel for him, though. I wanted him to feel appreciated, so I cheered him on despite his lackluster performance.
When it comes to females, the voices blew me away. “Learning to be Silent”, a poignant duet between Ren’s mother Ethel (played by Myrti Tipton) and the Rev. Shaw Moore’s wife Vi (Veronica Rice) gave me chills. My mother, seated next to me, started to cry during Vi’s solo, “Can You Find It in Your Heart?” as I stared, enraptured.
Brenee Goforth’s performance as Ariel was also noteworthy. She was enthusiastic, and her devil-may-care attitude definitely fit the role. With a voice shockingly strong for her petite frame, she engaged the audience and seemed to really enjoy simply being on stage.
The musical was on point for all its technical aspects. Using a round approach to staging, the cast used all the space allotted to them to bring the audience into the action. None of the actors noticeably forgot lines or choreography, but I got the impression from the supporting cast that they were bored with what they were doing sometimes. Luckily, in the finale, the dancers burst out of their shells to the classic “Footloose” anthem. The audience joined in, and for the first time in the performance, I was caught up in the action. I guess the teens achieved their goal; dancing definitely wasn’t a sin by the end of the night.
Why then, is dancing regarded as a sin by high school boys? That certainly seems to be the case for Independence High School. As girls busted out perfect dance combinations and reached impossibly high notes, boys failed at basic acting skills. The only boy who left an impression with his acting was Marshall Hildebrande, in his portrayal of Willard. His comic relief and easygoing acting style was a respite from the other, less accomplished male actors.
When there is such disparity in talent between male and female actors, it exposes something about the atmosphere at Independence. Are boys being discouraged from the performing arts? Is the sports scene regarded as more masculine or important? Either way, at the end of the night, it was the girls who truly cut footloose.