SOUTH PLAINFIELD - The auditorium of South Plainfield High School will come alive with dance and acrobatics tonight, when the South Plainfield Summer Drama Workshop performs the American musical drama, “FootLoose.” This will be the 48th performance of the program, which has become a much anticipated South Plainfield tradition. Showtimes are Thursday, August 1st at 7p.m., Friday, August 2nd at 7p.m., Saturday, August 3rd at 7p.m., and Sunday, August 4th at 2p.m. at South Plainfield High School. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students/seniors (65+).
“This is a show you don’t want to miss,” said Rocco Severini, President of the South Plainfield Summer Drama Workshop Parent Association. “The talent these students have is incredible. Their voices alone will mesmerize you.”
“FootLoose” is set in a small Midwestern town called Bomont. When Ren McCormack (Justin Bell) moves to Bomont from Chicago, he discovers that dancing and rock music are illegal in his new home. With the help of a friend, Willard Hewitt (Jackson Dalton), and the defiant preacher’s daughter Ariel Moore (Emma Balinger), Ren sets out to loosen up the rigid town and really shake up their way of life. Ariel’s father, Reverend Shaw Moore (James Buchanan), however, stands in the way as a force to be reckoned with.
“Basically, Ren is a city kid who comes to this new little country farming town, where everyone knows everyone else,” said Bell. “He learns the way that they live and kind of helps people out in different situations. There’s a story to tell.”
"'Footloose' is the story of a small town moving through grief and guilt in the wake of a tragic accident. It's characters imitate the stages of grief and loss we experience after losing a loved one: Denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance," said Director Kelly Kline. "My hope is for our audience to walk away with this message: When grief one day finds you, or if you are currently experiencing it, may you dance through it."
“The play is a really fun play,” said Patrick Joyner, Senior, who plays Coach Roger Dunbar. “It’s different from typical musicals that I’ve done because it’s a whole different feeling. It’s about fun and fighting for what you believe in, having a sense of freedom.”
From the subject of losing a loved one, to advocating for what you believe in and embracing the joy of life, the show brings the audience on an adventurous ride.
“The production is extremely enticing with dancing, singing and drama,” said Marissa Minogue, Orchestra Director. “It gets the audience really excited. It’s a fun production. We’re hoping that we get a good turn out because it’s wonderful to support the Arts - music and drama.”
“‘FootLoose’ really is about understanding others and getting through problems together to find solutions without holding everyone back,” said Alyssa Rivera, sophomore, who plays Ethel McCormack, Ren’s mother. “It’s about learning how to move on from the past.”
“People should come out and see the play if they want to dance in their seats or they want to sing along to the songs from when they first saw the show,” said Colin Campos, Sophomore, who plays Wes Warnicker.
The experience of embracing life’s joys as well as ups and downs together as a community is a prevalent theme throughout and is expressed vibrantly with dancing and music.
“The students do a really great job of telling the story,” said Hallie Ryan, Choreographer. “It’s a very fast turn around. The program is six weeks and it’s a very difficult show. There’s a lot of dance in it, a ton of singing, and it’s not a light show. They worked really really hard and it shows.”
Students had the opportunity to take on unique roles and make them their own.
“I play Ren’s uncle, so I’m more of a parental figure,” said Campos. “In some of the scenes we have a rough patch between each other. It gets intense. This is my second year doing summer drama and I’m excited to perform. I have a much larger role than I did in the last play, so that’s pretty fun.”
The South Plainfield Summer Drama Workshop production of “FootLoose” is directed by Kelly Kline, who spent seven summers on the SPHS stage performing with the program before she went on to study Television and Digital Media at Montclair State University. Performing in Off-Broadway shows in New York City and teaching children at Performers Theatre Workshop, Kline is passionate about sharing her knowledge of theater with others.
"The students and staff have been working so hard to put on this year's production of Footloose!" said Kline. "I'm extremely impressed by their hard work and dedication. We've been having a blast dancing through our summer! The amount of improvement I've seen from the cast in such a short amount of time has really shown me their level of professionalism and love for their craft."
Last summer, school renovations closed the auditorium and students were unable to perform. Instead, a series of workshops were offered to give them the opportunity to hone their acting skills.
“This year was a rebuilding year,” said Vocal Director Joan Stasio. “As time went on, I saw that it was really coming together. I always believe that the more kids you have, the more people will know about it in the community and the program can thrive.”
“The summer was very challenging this year,” said Severini. “We, unfortunately, had new obstacles with time and space for rehearsal this year, but the kids and the wonderful staff (Kelly, Hallie, Joan, Marisa, and Susan) have really given 110% to this production.”
The summer drama program is only six weeks, so rehearsals are intense, but many students say it’s the experience of a lifetime.
“The summer program has been wonderful,” said Emma Ballinger, Freshman, who plays Ariel Moore. “Our director, our choreographer and vocal director, I love them so much and the cast has really become like a family. We support each other.”
“This is my third year doing summer drama and it’s been fun,” said Cassie O’Shaughnessy, freshman, Ensemble. “I had to learn a lot of dances and songs. It’s challenging, but it’s worth it.”
“I play Urleen, one of the three trio girls,” said Sara Desimone, sophomore. “I think it’s really fun to be here with everyone. It gives me a lot of energy when I get here.”
“It’s been really good,” said Allison Buchanan, eighth grade Ensemble member. “It’s a lot of fun. I have a lot of friends from last year and I’ve met a lot of nice people this year. It’s just been a really good time all around.”
The choreography was a major undertaking as the scenes call for acrobatics and unique dance moves. Choreographer Hallie Ryan has been performing since the age of eight years old and plans to attend Texas Christian University in the fall as a theater major.
“Since dancing is illegal in the town of Bomont, I wanted to do unconventional choreography so it doesn’t really seem like they’re doing physical dance moves, but it looks like they’re doing something for fun to try to get around the law,” said Ryan. “So we have a lot of cartwheels. I have one scene where they’re doing jumprope work and I have soccer balls, basketballs, hula hoops and bikes, which I’ve had a lot of fun incorporating into the choreography."
Assistant Choreographer Jillian Roche, who is to attend New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts to study film and television in the fall, and Dance Captain Sarah Gwiazda, who plans to attend Muhlenberg College in the fall for Dance, assisted Ryan. Despite many challenges that arose throughout the summer, the dedication of everyone involved has shown.
“All of the students are really dedicated,” added Ryan. “Sarah Gwiazda is our dance captain and she is an phenomenal dancer. Assistant Choreographer Jillian Roche is incredible. We had a cast member leave, but Kori Caicedo stepped up and took over the roll. He was already double cast and he’s now triple cast. And he has done it with flying colors. James Buchanan plays Reverend Shaw Moore and he has put in a lot of effort, time, consideration and thought into his character. Justin Bell, who plays our lead, Ren, is such an amazing leader and really has stepped into his character very well. Everyone has been amazing.”
“There’s a lot of dancing, but also it’s a lot of acrobatic tricks and stunts,” said Justin Bell, college Freshman, who plays the lead character. “There’s a lot of layering in the show, so there are different spots on stage where you have to do different things and it’s interactive with the whole auditorium.”
An important component of Summer Drama is involving the students in every aspect of theater.
“The kids have had a lot of input here and they tell me what fits and what doesn’t fit,” said Ryan. “I am a performer first and I told them if they have ideas, tell me. If it works, we’ll do it. So there are a lot of things in the show that are from the students, which is really fun.”
The show’s Vocal Director, Joan Stasio, taught and coached the students, imparting decades of musical experience. Stasio began her involvement with summer drama as a student and has been a part of the production for forty years.
“I’ve been doing Summer Drama on and off since 1978,” said Stasio. “Last week, I walked through the stage door and I had this feeling of deja vu. I remembered my husband the year that he was building sets. My daughter and her husband met doing summer drama. My son’s been playing the cello here since third grade. When I walked into the auditorium, my summer drama life just passed before me and I felt like I was home again.”
Stasio is currently the Orchestra Director at Grant School, where she has been the Co-Director and Producer of the Grant Drama Club since 2003. Teaching music in South Plainfield for thirty-five years, Stasio has devoted herself to the children of the town, giving them opportunities to perform and learn music and drama.
“The kids are extremely talented and it’s going really well,” said Stasio. “And it’s been great working with everyone."
The performers are accompanied by the Pit Orchestra, conducted by Orchestra Director Marissa Minogue, a graduate of Monclair State who is currently a music teacher in the Westfield Public School system. This is her fourth year with the Summer Drama Workshop.
“It’s a wonderful experience,” said Minogue. “We’ve been practicing since June and we have a group that is a mix of eighth grade to professionals, so it’s an awesome collaboration of musicians that can have a fun musical experience over the summer. And the vocalists do an amazing job. They’re really talented musicians. I’m really excited to be a part of it.”
The Summer Drama Program is open to any student entering seventh grade through the end of their first year in college and is not limited to South Plainfield residents. This offers the opportunity for older students to mentor the younger ones.
“It’s different than high school drama because you get the experience of working with younger people so as an older kid, it’s a mentorship,” said Joyner. “This is the next generation, not only of theater, but of life. It’s really interesting to be a mentor and help another generation grow.”
“This summer was really fun,” said Gabriella Ettore, seventh grader in the Ensemble. “It was nice getting to do this. I am excited about the performance. I learned a lot and made some friends.”
“I’m in the ensemble and this is my first year,” said Odille Chery, SPHS sophomore. “This is really fun. The best part is the dances and hanging out with my friends. I danced for nine years with SpotLight on Dance so I’m used to being on stage and it’s really fun, so I decided to join summer drama.”
The cast, stage crew, technicians, directors, board members and volunteers make up a production that not only highlights the talents of the those enrolled in the program, but creates lasting memories.
“We just really love to perform,” said Rivera. “And everyone here is really cooperative and kind. The little moments you get when you’re hanging out back stage are so much fun.”
The main cast of the show and Ensemble have spent their summer on stage, learning lines, memorizing lyrics and perfecting their acting, singing and dancing skills.
The cast includes: Justin Bell (Ren McCormack), Alyssa Rivera (Ethel McCormack), James Buchanan (Reverend Shaw Moore), Sara Dabul (Vi Moore), Emma Balinger (Ariel Moore), Catie Scheidemann (Lulu Warnicker), Colin Campos (Wes Warnicker), Patrick Joyner (Coach Roger Dunbar), Ashlee Jacobs (Eleanor Dunbar), Emily Alcaide (Rusty), Sara DeSimone (Urleen), Marylee O’Dell (WendyJo) , Gabriel Soto (Chuck Cranston), Justin Billich (Lyle), Kori Caicedo (Travis/Cowboy Bob/Jeter), Noah Cabrera (A Cop), Sarah Housel (Betty Blast), Jackson Dalton (Willard Hewitt), Megan Alyssa Valdes (Principal Clark), Anisha Goel (Bickle), and Adam Casiliggi (Garvin).
Those who make up the Ensemble are: Sarah Gwiazda (Dance Captain/Ensemble), Gerrolin Beauzile, Amanda Bermo, Riley Billian, Genesis Bosse, Allison Buchanan, Lia Cataldo, Odille Chery, Sophia Colucci, Ashley Costante, Gabriella Ettore, Courtney Gregory, Adriana Magnani, Jillian McConville, Sophia Miller, Paityn Moniz-D’Souza, Cassie O’Shaughnessy, Kaitlyn Power, Alexis Salter, Kelvin Singleton, Evalyn Szalanczi, Madison Szalanczi, Gianna Tomei, and Trudie Whalen.
Those behind the scenes, the dedicated technicians and stage crew members, who work with quiet efficiency are led by Technical Director Susan Pipolo, a recent graduate of Castletown University with a degree in technical theatre and design.
Those who handle the Technical side of the production and Stage Crew are: Xavier Brown (Sound Tech), Van Dalton (Stage Crew), Aiden Mackenzie (Stage Crew), Caitlin McConville (Stage Crew), Kevin O’Brien (Stage Crew), Amy Swartz (Stage Crew/Lights), and Douglas Veit (Stage Crew).
The show’s vibrant theme is further enhanced by its costumes, which were coordinated by Luann Severini and Dianne Gervasi.
The Pit Orchestra has been carefully constructed as a rock band to accompany the energetic dances and songs. A mix of students from eighth grade to professional musicians, the orchestra is designed to rock.
Orchestra members include: Jay Buchanan (electric bass), Liesel Co (keyboard), Michael Kovacs (guitar), Jonathan Mohan (woodwinds), Tommy O’Brien (clarinet, bari sax), Joshua Persad (percussion), Matthew Schmidt (woodwinds), Amanda Senatore (drumset), Marc Stasio (guitar) and Joan Stasio (keyboard).
Apart from the dedicated students and production team, the program would not be possible without the tireless behind the scenes efforts of the South Plainfield Summer Drama Workshop Production Board, which includes: Rocco Severini (President), Chris Seesselberg (Vice President), Susan Gwiazda (Secretary) and Terri Pipolo (Treasurer) as well as Trustees Terry Reed-Housel, Nancy McKenzie, Laura O’Shaughnessy and Terri Veit. Several others contributed including Katie Bryson (logo design), Rich D’Urso (t-shirts and lawn sign printing), Rich Mowrey (scripts, tickets and playbook printing), Bill Seesselberg (guidance), Roxanne Rivera (headshots and photos), Victoria Pipolo (general help), Pete Rockwell and Principal Robert Diehl.
“I made sure to thank everyone on the board and others who have helped us for all the work they are doing,” said Stasio. “I feel like their hearts are in it. The fact that everyone’s hearts are in it and we know it's all for the kids, I know it’s going to be successful. And it’s been wonderful working with everyone.”
The final hours are upon the Summer Drama Workshop and the curtain is about to open for the debut performance of “FootLoose” in South Plainfield.
“The community should come out and see the show because like Bomont, South Plainfield is kind of a small town and it’s very inclusive with everyone in it, a very diverse setting,” said Bell. “Everybody has a story. I can guarantee that anybody that walks through the door will be able to relate to at least somebody on stage.”
“I think everyone should come out and see the show because it’s a really interesting and fun show with a lot of high energy,” said Rivera. “Everyone is really ridiculously talented - the dancers, the singers, the actors. It’s just a really great show and people should come see it.”
“It’s been a pleasure working with this group,” said Ryan. “I haven’t worked with kids this age in this type of environment and they are so dedicated. It’s been a blessing to have this opportunity and I’m so excited for the performances.”
“We’re all very excited about this performance,” said Ballinger. “I think it’s going to be really special. We put a lot of work into preparing and I think it’s going to really show how much we put into it. And it’s going to be fun for people to watch because we have fun while we’re performing.”
The lights are set, audio levels have been tested, voices are warmed up and instruments are tuned. The South Plainfield Summer Drama Workshop asks everyone tell friends about the performances and come out to enjoy the show. Performances will take place in the South Plainfield High School Auditorium August 1st, 2nd and 3rd at 7p.m. with the final performance Sunday, August 4th at 2p.m.