I suppose when you think of plays that carry a spiritual punch, Footloose the Musical doesn’t pop into your mind. I felt the same way–and then I was cast in the role of Rev. Shaw Moore at the Artisan Center Theater in Hurst, TX, the role that John Lithgow made famous in the original movie version and reprised by Dennis Quaid in the 2011 remake. Oh, there’s the dancing, 80s-style fashion and feel-good songs such as “Holding Out for A Hero,” “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” “Mama Says” and “Almost Paradise.”
But the moral of the story is is not wrapped up in song and dance, but in confession and reconciliation. The story is centered in the small town of Bomont, where Rev. Moore has persuaded the town council to ban dancing. Shaken by the accidental death of several Bomont youth who had been at a party, including his own son who was rumored to have been impaired while driving, the ban is easily enforced until Ren McCormack enters the picture. A Chicago native, Ren’s father suddenly leaves him and his mother. Mrs. McCormack decides to return to her childhood roots in Bomont, where Ren meets the Moore’s rebellious teenage daughter, Ariel. Eventually our protagonist leads Ariel and her friends to oppose the dancing restriction, setting up a showdown between Ren and Rev. Moore.
Along the way, Ren opens up about his anger toward his dad. Ariel tells her father that she knows she hasn’t made it easy for him. Rev. Moore admits his wrongs, singing a reprise of a song entitled “Heaven Help Me”:
Heaven help me
Find my way now;
Open up my heart again.
Help me find the words to say now;
Heaven help me,
Oh, heaven help me!
What takes Rev. Moore two hours in the play takes years–and sometimes a lifetime–for people in the real world. Sadly, some souls never come clean and turn around. After laying down his burden, Rev. Moore admits to his congregation, “It was a terrifying experience.”
What a fascinating insight. Repentance is terrifying. Maybe, long ago, you tinkered with an amusing diversion and now it’s an ugly prison guard of addiction. You suffered a devastating loss and, instead of staying only temporarily in your prison of grief, you set up house. You moved a couch into the dungeon and hung pictures on the walls. You have no idea what life would be like if you gave up your pet sin, that lingering grudge or the disappointment you’ve clutched onto like a kid with a security blanket. So you opt for familiarity instead of freedom.
But then comes the crisis moment, a divine juncture when you are brought face-to-face with that flaw or foible. You have a choice: cling to it even tighter or give it up for the unknown. In Footloose, after my character talks about the terror of laying down his burden, he adds, “But it was also exhilarating.”
The words of Andreé Seu come to mind: “There is great relief with repentance. There is much lightening with the words ‘I did wrong. No excuse,’ uttered first in the heart, and then out loud to another sentient being. At once, the simplicity of it, the accessibility of it, will astound you. All the psychic reserves that were invested in the round-the-clock enterprise of keeping truth at bay are dismissed, freed up for better purposes.”
Not too long ago, after a performance of Footloose, a theater patron came through the actors’ reception line. He looked at me with a grin, saying, “Glad you finally lightened up.”
That’s the great benefit of repentance, and how good it feels to walk around with that weight off your shoulders.
Footloose the Musical © 1998 Music by Tom Snow, lyrics by Dean Pitchford (with additional lyrics by Kenny Loggins), and book by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie
Photo of Vi and Shaw Moore by Al Smith Photography www.alsmithphotography.com
Photo of Dancing Girl in Field by Belovodchenko Anton via stock.xchng