An opening night full-layout flip three feet in the air is a tough entrance to follow. Yet that's exactly the scene Director-Choreographer Cambrian James blocked for Connor Wince (who plays leading man Ren McCormack) in Hale Centre Theatre's new production of Footloose. Wince visited after last night's opening show with Examiner about how he fits into the East Valley show that began its movie/Broadway history in 1984.
"It just comes pretty comfortably and naturally to me, so I didn't really freak out," said Wince about learning his entrance would be a mid-air one. Having trained in gymnastics from preschool age and begun serious ballet-focused study by junior high, Wince felt at home with that aspect of his character.
...Even though it's been over two years since performing was part of the busy broadcast journalism/political science major, ASU junior's life. He stopped his show and rehearsal routine about the time the 2011 remake of the Footloose movie hit the big screen. Wince instantly cited "Kevin Bacon's warehouse dance scene in the original  movie" as his motivation for returning to an audition after so much time away from theatre, noting the film version's effect on him.
The Wince-flipping, laser-light opening was less risky for James, no doubt, because he was confident in the extraordinary punch his stone-solid supporting ensemble could pack for two hours straight during the 1998 Tom Snow/Dean Pitchford musical that was nominated for four Tony awards the year of its Broadway run.
Wince's spectacular entrance last night, punctuated by a healthy set of pipes, juxtaposed to a choral ensemble whose tone was as pure as the choir robes and church pews from which they sang. As the predictable plot unfolded, it called for a unexpected depth of character from not just the leads, but the supporting members, too.
As Wince suggested, "It's Footloose. You expect a song and dance show, but you get a deep story line."
He admitted it was his biggest preparation challenge. "The movie doesn't really get into the background of Ren's past struggles. I never thought about that at first. Those deeper things are still with him when we meet him. That stopped me, forced me to go deeper. "
"My closing dialogue with the Reverend Moore (Brandon Zale) is probably my favorite, personal moment," Wince disclosed. "My argument with him feels genuine, and I really had to work hard on it."
The heated conversation was indeed a connecting moment with the audience, as was the exquisitely honest, unexpected scream Ren delivered in the first act when he processes unresolved anger toward his absent dad. And Zale's Reverend was one of those Rock of Gibraltar supporting cast-mates. He took on more and more shades of complexity as the show progressed, from his crooning 'Heaven Help Me' to his anguished 'I Confess.'
Not only as a spouse, but as another supporting actress, Reverend Moore's wife Vi (Brandi Bigley) delved authentically into some beautifully phrased hefty emotions herself. She exuded both angst and strength as she gently phrased 'Learning to Be Silent' (with vocal peer Jennifer Whiting) and 'Can You Find it in Your Heart.'
For all the touching dramatic moments, several of the song and dance numbers alone were worth the ticket price. Leading lady Jacqueline Brecker (Ariel Moore), and supporting leads Kate E. Cook (Rusty) and Danny Karapetian (Willard Hewitt) were individual gems that added remarkable sparkle to the story and music.
"My favorite number in the show is 'Holding Out for a Hero," Wince offered, and audience response to Ariel's big number seemed to concur. Not only did it solidify Brecker's outstanding voice and natural presence, but the way the diner morphed to a rock band stage and back again in the course of the song was technical magic.
Kate E Cook as Rusty sang and acted 'Let's Hear it for the Boy' in a rendition that would make '80s hit single recording star Deniece Williams blush sheepishly. 'Mama Says' was led by the most endearing of big-hearted nerds, comic-relief Willard, and was tagged with a laugh out loud reprise.
Truth be told, the high-caliber, gymnastic-centered dance numbers were wonderfully dizzying, a rare strength in community theater. Hale's Footloose plays through August 23. Cut loose and treat yourself to it.