"Footloose" continues director's effort to attract younger audiences. 

Happy Feet

On Feb. 1, a touring production of "Fame" became the first musical of the new millennium in Richmond. It was an inauspicious beginning. The show was a hackneyed collection of tired and insincere clichés tied together tenuously by one hit song. The last musical of the year 2000 will be another stage adaptation of a 1980s movie with a one-word title. "Footloose - The Musical" will open the day after Christmas and play until New Year's Eve. For those whose experience with "Fame" may have made them wary, you should know that "Footloose" does have a more established pedigree: It is the touring version of a show that played for a year and a half on Broadway where it drew respectable audiences. Of course, most of the reviews were negative (The New York Times calling it "totally unaffecting"), and the show reportedly earned back less than a third of its $6.5 million price tag. But while the show may not have become a theatrical cash cow, according to the director and choreographer of the touring production, Daniel Stewart, it has been a success because of its more noble aspirations. "The idea of the show," says Stewart, "was to generate interest in younger people, … to bring them in as audiences." The show has been able to attract audiences because, explains Stewart, "It's a fun evening. It's not written to challenge you. It's set in a high school, and that's where the big appeal lies, with junior-high and high-school audiences." For those who don't remember the 1984 movie that introduced actor Kevin Bacon to most Americans, "Footloose" tells the story of Chicago teen-ager Ren McCormack who moves to a tiny Midwestern town where dancing is against the law. He quickly runs afoul of the powerful preacher Rev. Shaw Moore, whose personal tragedy has spurred him to enforce the dancing ban. Ren pursues the reverend's daughter, also a rebellious teen who rejects her father's views. "These issues could be treated seriously; the show could deal with real teen problems," says Stewart. "But it doesn't belabor the problems. It's a celebration of the spirit of youth." Though "Footloose" is a lightweight show, Stewart's work on the production is part of something he takes very seriously: the development of new American musicals. "I would hate to see musicals go the way of opera where just a certain group of people go to see revivals of a certain period," says Stewart, who has also directed national tours of Broadway favorites such as "The Who's Tommy." "I spend most of my time developing writers. Writing talent gets so attracted to Hollywood because the payoff is so great." Since completing his work on "Footloose" in September, Stewart has choreographed a new musical called "Lavender Girl" that opened recently in Philadelphia, and he has been developing a musical spoof called "Jungle Man!" with Doug Feiger, who wrote another famously infectious tune, "My Sharona." "It's a takeoff on stories like `Tarzan' and `George of the Jungle,'" says Stewart. Is he considering Brendan Fraser for the lead? Stewart laughs, "We'd have to see if he could sing first."

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