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Cutting loose . . . Sophie Hogg and Manawa Ellerbroek are excited to be performing Footloose at The Playhouse in Timaru from April 14 to 24. PHOTO: BRAD REEVE PHOTOGRAPHY

by Natasha Parrant

Two Footloose lead actors, one from a solid acting background and one not, blew away the directors at auditions for the show.

Sophie Hogg (15) plays Ariel Moore and Manawa Ellerbroek (16) the role of Ren McCormack in the show, being staged by the South Canterbury Drama League.

Footloose is set in the late 1980s and is about teenager Ren, who moves from Chicago with his mother to a small town called Bomont. He is shocked to hear the town’s minister, the Rev Shaw Moore, has convinced the town to ban dancing and music. He eventually befriends Ariel, the reverend’s daughter, and Willard, a country hick who becomes his best friend, and does his best to convince Mr Moore to let the teenagers dance.

Director Alice Sollis and choreographer Abigail Austin said Manawa “absolutely blew us away at the auditions”.

Musical director Megan Holden said Manawa was “a young man who has come out of the shadows and blown me away with his raw, untrained vocal capability”.

“He walked into our auditions in the last 15 minutes and turned everything upside down,” junior section chairwoman and Sophie’s mother, Tamara Hogg, said.

Mrs Sollis said Sophie was playing her first big role in the Juniors

“Sophie is an all-round triple threat [in theatre terms that means she can sing, dance and act to a very high standard] with a huge performing arts career ahead of her if she wants it”.

Ms Holden said Sophie “has a powerful set of pipes and vocal ability well beyond her years”.

Sophie has been with the junior section of the South Canterbury Drama League (SCDL) since she was 10 years old, and this will be her sixth show with the juniors. In 2018 she played the Sour Kangaroo in Seussical Kids, which was when her big vocal range was discovered by the drama league.

On the other hand, Footloose will be Manawa’s first show with the league.

Mrs Hogg said someone with little acting experience winning over the show directors showed anyone could achieve something if they gave it a go.

Manawa is a year 12 pupil at Mountainview High School and played the lead in the school’s production of the musical Moana last year.

He likes to play football in his spare time and also planks every so often to strengthen his diaphragm to help his vocals. He has also been acting in productions since he was in year 8. He is aiming for a career in IT.

Sophie has been singing and dancing since she was 5 years old. She has studied jazz, ballet and drama, plays piano and eventually wants to act on Broadway.

Sophie said it was busy balancing NCEA with rehearsals, and she had to stop doing jazz and piano to be able to fit acting into her busy schedule. However, it was worth it, as playing a lead role in a SCDL production for the first time was a big thing for her.

“Little kids look up to me now, which is really cool.”

She was happy Manawa ended up getting the role, she said. Initially, he thought he was too busy for the show, but his friends ended up bribing him to audition, which was why his audition was last-minute.

The pair said they had become like brother and sister. Sophie described Manawa as a gentleman, but also said he was “funny, nice and likes to joke around”.

Manawa said Sophie was “talented at dancing, singing and acting” and also gave lots of hugs.

Struggles the cast dealt with were memorising lines and keeping quiet while they waited to go on stage, but Sophie and Manawa said when they got into character they were able to focus.

Sophie said her character was the complete opposite of what she was actually like in person. She said her character was rebellious and sassy, whereas in real life she was not like that at all.

In fact, when it came to boys, she did not have many encounters with them in the way her character did in the show.

Mrs Hogg said she did well to be convincing on stage and in the promotional photographs.

Sophie said her take on her character was influenced by movies she watched, conversations she had with people and what she witnessed in her day-to-day life.

Manawa said his character was a rule-breaker but he saw similarities in himself, as he used to be “quite the rule-breaker” when he was younger.

The actors have rehearsed for about 160 hours altogether, rehearsals running from Monday to Wednesday and every Sunday each week.

“the first week is almost sold out and the second week is looking like it will go the same way,” Mrs Hogg said.

Footloose runs from April 14 to 24 at The Playhouse.

Tickets are $30 each.