Masuk production of ‘Footloose’ nets 3 Sondheim Award nominations, 1 win

Recent Masuk graduates, from left, Maile Booth and Audrey Lesko, with the school's theater director Michael Katz and rising junior Ethan Fonck.

Life has been full of surprises for Masuk High School senior Maile Booth. She was accepted to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and even had a roommate lined up, only to see an Instagram post on Prom Night about the school being buried in debt and losing its accreditation.

Booth, who graduated from Masuk this spring, said the theater community has been accommodating to the displaced drama students, holding auditions so they can be picked up by other schools.

While this caused a mad scramble, not all surprises have been unpleasant for Booth, a nominee for Best Supporting Actor at the Sondheim Awards for her performance as Ethel McCormack in Masuk’s production of the musical “Footloose”.

She attended the awards ceremony at the Schubert Theater in New Haven on May 18 with fellow nominees.

“I didn’t think I’d actually win and my parents didn’t think I would win,” Booth recalled. “Then they called my name. I just thought it was great to be nominated and wear a fancy dress. I was the only one who won and didn’t have a speech prepared.”

Booth beat out seven other students across 28 high schools in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Masuk Theater Director Michael Katz got his school to participate in the Sondheim Awards for the first time and Masuk had a strong showing.

In addition to Booth’s win for Best Supporting Actor, two other drama students, Audrey Lesko, who graduated this spring, and rising junior Ethan Fonck, received nominations for their performances in “Footloose” — Lesko for Best Actress and Fonck for Best Supporting Actor.

“I think it’s absolutely incredible,” Katz said of their accomplishments.

For the Sondheim Awards, there are eight nominees for every category.

A team of three industry professionals attend participating schools’ musicals and provide written feedback to be shared with each program upon completion of the awards season.

Lesko said all nominees sang songs for their roles before judges picked the winners.

Choosing ‘Footloose’

Masuk’s cast works hard for its production of the popular musical “Footloose”.

“I’d never heard of ‘Footloose,'” Katz said of the musical based on the 1984 movie by the same name, starring Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer, John Lithgow and Dianne Wiest.

He said Sharon Bartek, a Masuk staff member, had suggested it.

“She said, ‘everyone in town knows it and will love it,'” Katz recalled.

Lesko, whose mother and cousin were involved in theater, said she’s been watching musicals since age five and had already seen “Footloose” and the 2013 revival, which she did not think was as good as the original movie.

Katz arranged a watch party for cast members, giving all members of Masuk’s production an opportunity to see the iconic 80’s movie.

In “Footloose” Ren McCormack moves from Chicago to a small Midwestern town and is shocked to discover dancing and rock music is illegal there.

As he struggles to fit in, Ren faces an uphill battle to change things with the help of his new friend, Willard Hewitt, and defiant teen Ariel Moore. But Ariel’s influential father, The Rev. Shaw Moore stands in the way.

Playing a bad guy

In Masuk’s production, Ethan Fonck starred as Chuck Cranston, a local bully who Fonck describes as a jerk with a care free attitude. He doesn’t like Ariel’s friends and has an ongoing beef with her best friend, a girl nicknamed Rusty, played by Lesko.

“He’s definitely the bad guy,” Katz said of Cranston.

“He has enemies all around him,” Fonck said, adding how different he is from his character. “I’m calm, cool and collective. I just go with the flow.”

Katz said playing a character like Cranston takes getting used to violent material and “getting the giggles out” before doing the scenes again.

“It definitely is fun to play,” Fonck said.

“You’re trying to take on the normal stereotypes of what a bad guy is,” Katz said.

Katz, a member of Masuk’s Class of 2016, recalled playing the role of Bill Sykes, a character who kills his wife in “Oliver Twist”.

“I went from, ‘I’m gonna get you,’ and back to giddy Mike,” Katz said of playing his role and being himself again afterwards.

In scenes with physical violence, he said, “you have to make sure the scene partners are comfortable with the material.”

‘Funny, sassy lines’ 

In her role as Rusty, Lesko has run ins with Chuck Cranston.

“She’s in love with Willard,” Lesko said of her character. “She’s really just goofy. She has funny, sassy lines. I really just tapped into not caring what people say. She’s care free. I embraced that and had a country accent, which got me into the character … and country boots.”

As a Best Actress nominee, Lesko got to participate in a Boot Camp with other nominees at Black Rock Theater in Fairfield. There she worked with professional actors in the industry.

Lesko won a Jamie Hulley Art Foundation scholarship this year.

Booth had the challenge of being a teenager playing the role of single mother, Ethel McCormack.

“She was a hip mother, which helped,” Katz said. “Maile got to wear her own clothes. A small part can make such a big impact on the show.”

Ethel McCormack had the challenge of being a caring mother who was living with her brother and sister-in-law during a time when women were not expected to speak out.

“It’s something I was used to from past shows I have done,” Booth said of playing an older character. “I played a grandpa.”

“It was very far from my personal experience,” she said of the McCormack role. “I think it also helped that Ryan played as my son and we have a close relationship already. I already felt protective of him.”

Booth was talking about Ryan Sokira, a drama student who is friends with Fonck and got him interested in performing in plays and musicals the sixth grade.

“Playing characters who are different from me is my favorite part of acting,” Booth added. “I look at similarities and put that in it.”

Red carpet treatment

On the night of the awards gala, Katz arranged to have a bus for anyone who wanted to go.

“There was a red carpet,” Lesko said.

“It was overwhelmed with theater kids,” Fonck said of the Schubert. “It was so crowded. It was great though.”

Fellow cast members William Barrett, Ryan Sokira, Olivia Beloblosky and Muriel Bailey performed at the event — Sokira and Bailey in an opening number, and Barrett and Beloblosky in a closing number.

Lesko did a medley she learned at Boot Camp with fellow Best Actor and Best Actress nominees.

Booth, Lesko and Fonck soaked in the experience of being Sondheim Awards nominees together.

“I was super happy to be nominated with these guys, especially since we’ve performed together for so long,” said Booth, who had gone to theater camp with Lesko. “It made me reflect on how we developed together as performers.”

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  1. Thank you so much for this wonderful article and all you do for the Monroe community.
    P.S. Our daughter’s first name only has one L (Maile).

    • Thanks Iulia, I just fixed the spelling. I saw it wrong in an email and forgot to double check when I interviewed her.

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