Spotlight Youth Theatre is a motivated organization in Glendale that gives valley youth a taste and an opportunity of presenting a full season of quality theatrical productions in an intimate setting under solid direction. Like Valley Youth Theatre, Spotlight employs the talent of some of the valley’s best young performers; all shows are performed by youth between the ages of 4 to 19. For performers whose theatrical intentions are to be a part of something more than simply high-school of even a notch above regular community theatre, Spotlight is one of the few local groups in which valley youth can assemble and showcase their talent.
Its final production of the current season opened this weekend at its location on North 43rd Avenue. Footloose is a Broadway musical based on the popular 1984 film of the same name where high-school student, Ren (Bransen Gates) and his mother, Ethel (Brooke Shobe) are forced to move out of Chicago down to the small town of Bomont in the middle of nowhere. Bomont is one of those towns where everyone goes to the same church on a Sunday morning and allows the local preacher to basically dictate policy.
What surprises Ren the most is that this is a town where public dancing is outlawed due to a car accident that occurred four years ago after a teenage dance. Believe it or not, even though this may seem a thin plot for a musical, such places still exist in areas of America, though the law is rarely enforced. Even our own Pinal County in Arizona had a section where dancing was outlawed, now overturned.
After a shaky opening on Broadway, the producers made some changes to the musical, and wisely it’s this revised version of Footloose that Spotlight is presenting.
The strength of this production is the ensemble. Considering that the majority of the characters are meant to be high-school students, Spotlight couldn’t have picked a better production to showcase the majority of its players; most of the performers are acting their own age. From the opening number to the grand finale, this vigorous cast never flag in its enthusiasm to give each high-energy production number their all. You can tell from the ambitious choreography that Spotlight intends to push its cast members not just to their limit but a little further, and it works. Given the limits of the stage area and the large cast performing on it, together director Kenny Grossman and choreographer Amanda Paige have worked wonders.
However, not everything runs as smooth as you might hope. The sets and props are changed between scenes with great efficiency in the first half but clunky in the second. Considering how intimate a setting the theatre is, being distracted by the noise of a set change while trying to concentrate on the action in another part of the stage is unavoidable, and perhaps the movers are not completely aware of how loud they sometimes get, but it might be worth noting that the coasters and the footsteps are occasionally more intrusive than they should be. The recorded music soundtrack is a good one and keeps the production sounding tight, but now and again the volume tends to drown some of the lyrics and even occasionally the dialog. Some actors are mic’d, some are not. Those that are not vanish under the volume.
There’s also the problem of teenagers playing adults. Sometimes a production such as this is in danger of having the adult roles appear as if they’re nothing more than youngsters playing dress up. The good news is that director Grossman has cast older members of the ensemble well. Vinny Jordan is particularly effective as Coach Dunbar while newcomer to Spotlight, Joshua Vern establishes himself as a convincing authority figure as the Reverend Shaw.
The two standouts, however, are the leads, and this is where the production shines. On the last dress rehearsal before opening night, actors Bransen Gates and Jessica Arnold suffered an accident that halted the proceedings. Opening night had to be cancelled, delaying the show’s opening by a day. Considering the pain both performers are reported to have suffered you would think they would have held back a little, but there was no sign of any guarded movement on the Sunday matinee that I attended. Like the professional performers they aspire to be, both actors held nothing back. When Jessica joins both Marley DeGroodt and Brooke Shobe for the touching Learning To Be Silent, you see the potential for Spotlight’s discovery of professionalism. It’s a moment that not only showcases the promise of a bright future for three budding talents it actually makes you forget you’re seated in a small theatre in Glendale and not in one of our larger, professional venues, which is where we may well see some of this capable cast in the not too distant future.
For more information regarding times, dates and tickets, CLICK HERE to go directly to the Spotlight Youth Theatre website.