Toby Underhill, 17, who plays Ren McCormack and Natalie Mata, 15, as Ariel Moore, run through “The Finale” scene during a rehearsal of “Footloose” in the Everett Civic Auditorium. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Toby Underhill, 17, who plays Ren McCormack and Natalie Mata, 15, as Ariel Moore, run through “The Finale” scene during a rehearsal of “Footloose” in the Everett Civic Auditorium. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

‘Footloose’ is Everett High School’s biggest show in years

More than 50 students will perform in the musical about a teen who defies his town’s anti-dance laws.

Everett High School is about to put on one of its biggest shows in years.

More than 50 students will perform in the musical “Footloose” in May at Everett Civic Auditorium.

The play is the tale of a high school boy who challenges anti-dancing laws in a small Midwestern town. It’s based on the 1984 movie of the same name starring Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer and John Lithgow.

Sara Coiley, director of the musical and the school’s drama teacher, said it will be the largest group on stage in about 25 years; 13 students also will be backstage and another 34 are in construction, painting, costuming, marketing crews and made a lobby display.

“The students were all saying they wanted to have something they can sink their teeth into as youth,” Coiley said. “Because of what’s happening in our world and how youth want to have a voice, this show really speaks well for that. It has a strong story, and we can relate to it. We’ve all been denied something.”

The musical, first staged in 1998 on Broadway, is faithful to the plot and characters from the movie, but puts more of an emphasis on the protagonist, teenager Ren McCormack.

McCormack, who will be played by senior Toby Underhill, is the newcomer in Bomont, Oklahoma, a small town that outlawed dancing and rock ‘n’ roll music after a horrific car crash involving four students.

He’s introduced to the Rev. Shaw Moore (Kody Smith), who is the biggest supporter of the ban, and his rebellious teenage daughter, Ariel (Natalie Mata). McCormack, frustrated that he can’t dance like he used to when he lived in Chicago, decides to defy authority and put on a senior prom.

“It’s fun to play somebody like that who is impulsive,” Toby, 17, said.

Toby was a choir and band kid until he performed in the high school’s production of “The Little Mermaid” in 2017 as an ensemble dancer. He wanted to see what it was like to be on stage, but was terrified by the experience.

He went back to performing with the jazz choir and band for the next year and a half, but then decided he had something to prove to himself his senior year.

“As far as opportunities go, this is the biggest thing I’ve done in high school,” he said. “I’ve come through a lot of internal insecurities about myself, and being on stage forces me to get rid of those and forget about all of those things.”

Toby, who is transgender, is comfortable belting out his character’s singing parts. It’s the acting and dancing that he’s been focusing on since rehearsals began about two months ago. His dance moves need to be punchy, graceful and athletic all at the same time, while his body language has to be descriptive to the audience.

There’s also the part later in the story where he has to teach everyone else to dance. No pressure, right?

“I know I can do it, but it’s stressful to know I’m in front of everyone,” he said.

Using fundraiser money, the school hired several industry professionals to help with the production, including several with experience at Village Theatre, such as Carly Hutchison, Kayden Oliver and Michael Nutting.

“Footloose” will feature 14 musical numbers inspired by the movie’s 1980s-style rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack. The cast and a choir ensemble will be backed by professional musicians playing guitar, bass, drums and keyboards.

As in years past, Everett High School’s spring musical will likely be in the running for the 5th Avenue Theatre Awards, which honor high school theater productions. The award ceremony is held every year in June.

Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427, Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.

If you go

Everett High School’s production of “Footloose” is showing 7:30 p.m. May 3, 4, 10 and 11 and 2:30 p.m. May 4 and 11 at the Everett Civic Auditorium, 2416 Colby Ave., Everett. Tickets are $15 for adults, $8 seniors and military, $5 students with ID. Call 425-385-4400.

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