NWSS students make magic at the Massey

Student talent powers dazzling production of Footloose

OK, Jolene Bernardino, I've got a bone to pick with you.

There I was, sitting perfectly dry-eyed in the theatre, enjoying myself immensely at Saturday night's Footloose production - until you came along with that powerhouse rendition of Can You Find It In Your Heart in Act 2. And then I lost it. Yes, I cried. Not just a subtle little sniff but real, actual tears. (And was I carrying a Kleenex in my purse? No, of course not. Why would I need Kleenex at Footloose?)

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So there I was desperately drying my eyes and my running nose and thinking, how does any teenager have the emotional maturity to pull that one off - and stay note-perfect while she's at it?

Seriously.

Yes, I had the pleasure of being in the audience for the closing production of New Westminster Secondary School's Footloose - and, wayward tears and all, I was blown away.

The talent level at NWSS is clearly outstanding, as performances like Jolene's showed - she was featured as Vi Moore, wife of the pulpit-pounding preacher whose inability to cope with the death of his son has brought dancing to a halt in the small town of Bomont.

Jolene was among an outstanding group of performers who simply knocked it out of the park as far as performance was concerned.

They were led by the charming Noah Wright as the city boy who relocates with his mother to live with relatives in Bomont after his father leaves - and who makes it a mission to bring dancing back to town. Yes, Noah, you more than did justice to Kevin Bacon (in fact, I think we should alert Mr. Bacon that his time is over, and there's a new Ren McCormack in town).

Noah was perfectly paired with Sarah Labrosse as his love interest, Ariel (daughter of the aforementioned preacher and wife), with an easy chemistry and natural charm that made them a beautifully appealing couple. Both brought some outstanding vocal chops and, even more importantly, managed to create depth in their young characters and elevate them beyond musical theatre stereotype.

The talent that surrounded them was just as impressive. There was Howard Dai, with remarkable stage presence and maturity (not to mention more great vocals) as the Rev. Shaw Moore. There was Sophie Labrosse as the vulnerable-yet-strong single mother to Ren. There was the spot-on trio of Keira Jang, Alyea Timleck and Caitlyn Beauregard as Ariel's three sidekicks - their rendition of Somebody's Eyes was easily a vocal highlight of the night. There was Jordan Whittaker as bad-boy Chuck Cranston (all bad boys should sing so well) and Isaac McAndless-Davis as the lovable Willard (was I the only one who kinda wanted to adopt Willard by the end of the night?).

And on and on it went, this depth of talent, right to the back row of the largest group dance number, as strong vocals joined tight choreography and impressive emphasis on character development in even the supporting cast.

It was no accident that some of the best numbers of the night were the group numbers - the girls' Holding Out for a Hero in Act 1, Let's Hear It For the Boy (featuring the delightful Keira) in Act 2 and, of course, the showstopping Footloose finale.

Along the way, the cast managed to plumb some unexpected emotional depths, with songs such as Learning to be Silent (by Sophie, Sarah and Jolene) and Heaven Help Me (featuring Howard) tapping into a deeper and more mature side of the young performers.

It's clear just how much effort went into the night, not just from the cast but from the crew - the staging, sets, lighting, costumes, hair and makeup team and more all combined to make one quality production.

And I'd be remiss not to mention the stellar playing of the band led by teacher Steve Clements. Together, Parker Elkins, Daniel Green, Haley Greenhalgh, Charles Li, Christina Qin, Xander Skelton and Kirill Yurtsev created a tight, crisp sound that powered the production from opening note to closing chord.

Great credit goes to the production team - Clements, director Frances Monteleone, choreographers Lindsay Waldner and Peter Ha, vocal director Kelly Proznick, acting coaches Monteleone, Traci Cave and Gower Roberts, stage manager Juliet Brown and technical director Don Parman - for pulling together what can only be described as a first-class show.

But even more impressive than the quality of the show was that final moment when every student involved in the production, cast and crew, poured onstage for final curtain calls. Seeing the sheer joy on every single one of those young faces made me more than a little teary-eyed (and I still didn't have any Kleenex).

Witnessing that joy was one of those moments that made me say: This is what education is all about.

Footloose didn't just entertain packed houses for its five performances.

It provided life-changing, potentially destiny-altering experiences for some 100 young people - and for who knows how many more in the audience who found inspiration in their talents.

Plus, it made at least one middle-aged critic cry.

You just can't put a price tag on that kind of success.

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