Interview: Michelle Elkin on Choreographing FOOTLOOSE: The Musical at Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center

Produced by Panic! Productions & BarCinBoo Productions

By: Apr. 05, 2023
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Interview: Michelle Elkin on Choreographing FOOTLOOSE: The Musical at Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center

Michelle Elkin (pictured) made her professional debut at the age of 8 in the movie musical Annie. Since then, her resume includes working in numerous film, television, commercial, and theater projects as a dancer and choreographer. After recently choreographing the teen musical 13 at Simi Valley Cultural Center, Michelle is returning to the venue as co-director (with Barry Pearl) and choreographer of Footloose: The Musical with book by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie, music by Tom Snow and lyrics by Dean Pitchford and Kenny Loggins, running April 22 - May 14, 2023.

The well-known score, created from the 1998 stage musical, is based on the iconic 1984 film whose popularity has truly stood the test of time. The story centers on city-slicker outsider Ren McCormack and his mother Ethel who move from fast-paced Chicago to the much slower Bomont in search of a change of pace and hopefully a better life. But the town's minister and city council have forbidden dancing within the city limits, a local law Ren decides to fight so the graduating high school seniors can have a safe and sober dance to celebrate their accomplishment.

Interview: Michelle Elkin on Choreographing FOOTLOOSE: The Musical at Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center

In rehearsal for Footloose are Rachel Goodman (PSM), Thomas Whitcomb (Ren McCormack), and Jan Roper (Vocal Director). Photo by Barry Pearl.

I decided to speak with Michelle since I am curious about how the big production numbers for the show will be choreographed in such a small theater space, as well as finding out more about some of the iconic shows on which she has previously worked.

Hi Michelle. Thanks so much for speaking with me. Before we get to talking about Footloose, I am curious about your exciting choreography credits on some of the most popular television shows and theatre productions including Young Sheldon (Resident Choreographer) Sutton Foster Live on PBS with Jonathan Groff, Younger (multiple episodes), The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Ragtime The Musical, Something Rotten,13 The Musical, Hunchback of Notre Dame and Associate Choreographer on the Broadway show Wonderland at the Marriott Marquis Theater.

I know it may be difficult, but can you share some of the most memorable experiences while working on any of those shows?

I enjoy the process of working on a scripted show for television. You get called in for a scene. The script says they dance and creatively a choreographer has to come up with what they envision for the show and think about all of the elements of how it will look visually on camera. For theater, the creative team collaborates from the beginning and it is fulfilling to be able to contribute artistically for the bigger picture on a stage.

What led you to get cast in Annie, your first movie musical at such a young age?

I was taking dance at a local dance studio. My mom heard about the Annie audition and phoned the casting department. The casting director answered the phone, which isn't usually the norm, asked my mom some questions and invited me to the audition. I auditioned, was called back and booked my first SAG job as an orphan in the movie musical Annie at 8 1/2 years old. That would be the start of what my career path was to become.

What an auspicious early start! As your career has progressed, have there been actors or choreographers who inspired you to follow in their footsteps?

Growing up, I had mentors that brought me onto TV, film and theater projects as a performer, Assistant and Associate Choreographer that led me to learning the tools of not just creating steps, but movement through storytelling and moving a character arc through movement. I also admire and have studied those who came before, such as Bob Fosse, Michael Kidd, Jerome Robbins. I love watching old movie musical dance clips and seeing the camera work and different eras of styles. I have a seeking spirit so I continue to take those examples along my journey.

Interview: Michelle Elkin on Choreographing FOOTLOOSE: The Musical at Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center

Speaking for footsteps, let's talk about your plans for choreographing Footloose in the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center. The movie has such iconic dancing sequences. How are you planning to make them fresh and new to appeal to current audiences?

I enjoy the creative process of choreographing and finding my own voice, while staying to the truth of the story. I am always looking for out-of-the-box ways to create the same essence. I often mix styles or utilize props in a different way and have cast dancers that are really strong who will also bring a fresh energy to the show.

Interview: Michelle Elkin on Choreographing FOOTLOOSE: The Musical at Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center

Footloose Ensemble Rehearsal - Photo by Paul Panico

What do you anticipate will be the challenges of staging the big ensemble musical numbers in the small space?

I've had many jobs choreographing for television where the dancers have to modify in small spaces for the camera and the final product ends up looking big. I will utilize the whole space on our stage, as well as including the house as I love having the audience feel they are part of the greater picture. It is the challenge of the artists to perform with the same energy as if they had a Broadway size stage.

That is absolutely true, especially since you never know if an audience member is seeing a staged production for the first time and they deserve to see you at your best!

Interview: Michelle Elkin on Choreographing FOOTLOOSE: The Musical at Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center

Switching over to Footloose, this is your second production working with director Barry Pearl (pictured with Michelle Elkin). How did the two of you first meet and what other productions have you done together?

Barry and I had an awareness of each other through mutual artists and the theater community but finally connected on 13 The Musical. Barry and I collaborate well and we have trust and respect for each other as creatives. Looking forward to creating more shows together.

How are you reaching out to cast the younger talent needed for the production, especially since most need to be triple-threat performers?

Interview: Michelle Elkin on Choreographing FOOTLOOSE: The Musical at Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center

Tyler Marie Watkins (Rusty) and Andreas Pantazis (Willard). Photo by Barry Pearl

The team put the casting notice out to Backstage and social media looking for talent. Many of our cast members are from artists I have taught at The Performing Arts Center, a professional training studio where I teach weekly classes, www.performingartscenter.net, as well as at Amda, Los Angeles where I am an adjunct professor. Many of these triple threat performers are having their debut after just graduating.

What do you see as the underlying themes of Footloose which make it so appealing to audiences of all ages?

One of the underlying themes of Footloose to me is how grief affects a family's dynamic and how the younger generation can remind and show the joy of life and hope through dance and music that ultimately can start to heal the human heart.

Interview: Michelle Elkin on Choreographing FOOTLOOSE: The Musical at Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center

Jan Roper (Vocal Director - sitting), Ronna Jones (Vi Moore), Paul Panico (Rev. Shaw Moore) and Hannah Battersby (Ariel Moore). Photo by Barry Pearl

Have you worked with Music Director Jeff Gibson or any others on the production team, other than Barry Pearl, before?

I worked with the Musical Director Jeff Gibson on 13 the Musical. He was one of the musicians for that show, playing keyboard. I also worked with Paul Panico as my Producer for 13. Paul is committed to bringing more professional theater to Los Angeles and I love working with him.

I read that rehearsals don't begin until the end of March. That doesn't leave much time to be ready to open such a big production on April 22. What do you see as the biggest challenges to be overcome to make that happen?

I love working in a fast pace while creating a show. Keeps everyone on their toes and focused for the greater good. There is no time for any distractions and everyone is in the moment to create the look of the show on the same timeline. I love and thrive in that energy.

Thanks so much Michelle. Is there anything else you would like audiences to know about Footloose?

Please buy tickets to see this wonderful cast we have assembled. We have to keep LA theater thriving and inspire theater producers to continue producing. Without the patrons in the seats, there is no live theater.

For more information about Michelle Elkin, visit www.michelleelkin.com

Footloose: The Musical, co-directed by Barry Pearl and Michelle Elkin, is produced by Panic! Productions & BarCinBoo Productions and runs April 22 - May 14, 2023 at Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, 3050 E. Los Angeles Ave., Simi Valley, CA 93065. Performances are Friday 8:00pm, Saturday 2:00pm & 8:00pm (5/6 & 5/13) and Sunday 2pm. Tickets are $35 for Adults, $25 for Students & Seniors, and $25 for Children 12 & under.

To purchase tickets: https:// simivalleyculturalartscenter. thundertix.com/events/209730

For general information on the show, go to: http://www. panicproductions.org




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