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Reunited ‘Footloose’ stars recall high-stepping hit

The hit musical “Footloose” made Kevin Bacon a household name nearly 25 years ago — but he almost didn’t get the starring role, he revealed. “They didn’t think I was sexy enough," Bacon said during a reunion of the film’s stars.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

It has been nearly 25 years since the release of the classic rock musical “Footloose,” the film that made Kevin Bacon such a household name that he soon had a trivia game named after him. The irony is, he almost didn’t get the the lead role of Ren McCormack.

“They didn’t think I was sexy,” Bacon said, feigning tears during a reunion of the film’s stars on TODAY Friday. “But I was very lucky, because the director of the movie [Herbert Ross] and the producer of the movie [Craig Zadan] were very, very big fans of mine and they really wanted me to do the film. And they did a screen test, put their own money up for it.”

To this day the stars of the film are still asked to kick off their Sunday shoes and show support for real-life small towns where dancing and rock music are frowned upon.

“People thought the premise was so far-fetched, rock ’n’ roll and dancing being illegal,” actor John Lithgow, who played a music-banning preacher in the film, told TODAY co-hosts Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer. “But yet so many people over the years have come up to me and said, ‘You told our story.’ ”

“It’s actually very relevant, even now,” agreed Lori Singer, who played Lithgow’s daughter in the high-stepping hit.

Lithgow, Singer and lead star Kevin Bacon were together again for the conclusion of TODAY’s series “Favorite Movie Casts Reunited.”

Footloose and fancy free“Footloose” grossed more than $80 million domestically (serious money in those days), yielded one of the most successful soundtracks in movie history, and has been adapted as a play from high schools to London’s West End. It told the story of Chicago teenager Ren McCormack, who moves to a small town where the local leaders have banned dancing and rock music.

The rebellious Ren wants his school to have a senior prom with dancing, so he rallies his newfound friends, only to bump heads with the Reverend Shaw Moore, played by Lithgow. Thickening the plot, Ren has also taken a romantic interest in the reverend’s daughter, Ariel, played by Singer.

“When I first read the script, the words and feeling just jumped off the page,” Singer recalled to Lauer and Vieira. “There’s so much passion and feeling, and really it’s about what’s best in America.

“It’s about freedom and it’s about fighting against even a little bit of oppression … It’s really about fighting the good fight in America, and joy, and, just ... liberty.”

Bacon, who recently turned 50, said the movie was unique in its approach, incorporating songs written specifically for it. Songs like the irrefutably catchy title tune “Footloose,” performed and co-written by Kenny Loggins (screenwriter Dean Pitchford also was in on the writing), and other hits like Deniece Williams’ “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” surface at key moments of the story.

“It was unusual because it was a dance movie, but we weren’t really singing,” Bacon explained. “So it wasn’t really a musical. They kind of had done it with ‘Saturday Night Fever.’ But the idea of taking really, really strong tunes and sort of building a movie around that was kind of a new thing.”

Lithgow said he knew from the start that the movie would easily appeal to a younger audience, but said its success and continuing impact were the result of Herb Ross’ direction.

“It was just done with such verve and style,” said Lithgow, who later went on to earn two Oscar nominations and multiple Emmy and Tony awards. “[Co-star] Dianne Wiest and I were kind of the anchor, we were the old guard. But we paid a lot of attention to our characters. We wanted to do justice by them and not make them caricatures.

“Herb Ross was our director, and he took every element of the film seriously. So we knew, as fun as it was going to be, we were going to do justice to it.”

At the movie’s end (25-year-old spoiler alert!), Bacon’s character winds up getting his way against the ultraconservative Moore by quoting a Bible passage in which King David is seen “leaping and dancing before the Lord.”

“I actually got called afterward from a town in Texas,” recalled Singer, 50, who is rumored to have beaten out Madonna for the role. “And I talked to Kevin about it and we almost went down because they were actually banning dancing in their town for the exact same reason that John’s character wanted to ban dancing.”

Rumors, rehashes and remakes“Footloose the Musical” opened at Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre in October of 1998 and had a run of 709 performances. It’s still running at the Playhouse Theatre in London.

And to this day, “Every week I get a call or letter from somebody saying, ‘Can you possibly come to an opening?’ and it’s in Iowa,” Bacon said.

Lauer teasingly asked how many offers Bacon has actually said yes to.

“I have been to a couple,” Bacon maintained. “I went to a school — actually, my daughter’s school — and spoke to the cast that was putting together the show.”

“I went to see a college production of it, and my character was played by a freshman who was about 5-foot-2 and 300 pounds and I sulked all day,” Lithgow put in. “But it was very good.”

Meantime, Paramount has announced plans to remake “Footloose,” with Zac Efron of “High School Musical” as the lead character. It’s slated for a 2010 release.

“I don’t know if they’re remaking the movie or remaking the musical of the movie,” Bacon commented. “I would think they would sing, you know?”

Regardless of its future, Lithgow looked fondly upon the past and the movie’s enduring legacy.

“It’s a very happy memory,” he said. “Wonderful people. I mean, it’s ridiculous: Kevin, Lori and I became such great friends, and yet I‘ve seen almost nothing of them. It took the TODAY show to get us back together.”