Columbus East presenting ‘Footloose’ this weekend

Irony lay in the fact that Abby Jones had to drop three dance classes at Dancers Studio Inc. to make time for her leading female role in Columbus East High School’s weekend production of “Footloose.”

The 15-year-old sophomore vocalist gets the humor.

And she gets her groove on pretty well in the show that originally was a 1984 Kevin Bacon movie — one with a title cut that became a huge hit for Kenny Loggins.

“It’s choreographed,” Jones said of the dance scenes. “But you really get to have some creative freedom in it, too.”

Hence the name. As in kickin’ off your Sunday shoes.

Jones originally tried out for a part in the chorus because of her busy schedule. But director Kevin Welsh liked her moves and her pipes. And pretty soon she was cast as Ariel, the daughter of conservative preacher the Rev. Shaw Moore (Henry Ulrich), who rails against the so-called evil of dancing in their small town.

This marks the first time the show has ever been done in Columbus.

“With a basically new (renovated) auditorium (last year), I wanted to do something really big,” Welsh said of the 800-seat venue with cutting-edge sound and lighting.

Senior Spencer Bright, 17, sees the top role of Ren, a new student in town who rebels against the town’s dancing ban, as really big for him. He already was familiar with the 1984 movie because it’s one of his mother’s favorites.

And he connects with the character in some elements of righteous rebellion and also on the dance floor ever so slightly.

“Now, I may not consider myself the greatest dancer,” Bright said. “But I like to think I can pride myself at least a little bit on that.”

Others take considerable pride as well. For the production that includes far more technical details than most shows, Welsh gives credit to stage manager Erin Tyler for coordinating everything from a digital light show to pyrotechnics.

Welsh, who was a junior at East when the first movie was released (another was made in 2011), believes there is one basic element underlying all the solid tunes in the stage show (most are different than the film soundtrack).

“One of the main ideas that I get is the idea and theme of suppression and repression,” Welsh said.

And in scenes such as one in which three leading female characters sing “Learning to be Silent,” when they are ignored, Welsh hopes the audience finds numerous connections to today. For him, that includes women’s ongoing “Me Too” movement about sexual assault, and injustices toward LGBTQ people.

Not to mention other injustices toward women, such as lack of pay equal to men in the workplace. Welsh has been as pointed as anyone on the local performance scene to emphasize that the arts reflect life and culture — and call attention to issues of the day.

“The general citizenry should always be able to stand up to something they feel strongly about and say, ‘That’s wrong,’” he said.

Overall, Welsh is simply excited that his students will get to perform, since even a basic vocal presentation of “Guys and Dolls” was canceled last spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, all in all, he’d love to see the message of “Footloose” move into the heart of attendees.

“Yes,” he said. “We want them to enjoy it, but we’d like for them to get something out of it more than ‘There was lots of pretty singing and dancing.’”