UVU Partnership with Sundance Gives Students and Faculty the Chance to 'Cut Loose'

After a one-year delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Utah Valley University and Sundance Mountain Resort have returned to the Eccles Stage Outdoor Amphitheatre.


After a one-year delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Utah Valley University (UVU) and Sundance Mountain Resort have returned to the Eccles Stage Outdoor Amphitheatre to present “Footloose: The Musical,” which opened July 22 and closes August 14. The production has been wildly popular, with tickets selling out through the end of the show’s run.

“Footloose” marks the 13th collaborative show between UVU and Sundance. The resort has a longstanding history of summer productions and put on shows every year from 1970 until 2002, after which there was a five-year gap while the Sundance Institute focused its resources on theatre workshops.

According to Chad Linebaugh, president and general manager of Sundance Mountain Resort, UVU played an essential role in allowing the Sundance Summer Theatre series to continue. “We knew that we needed a partner, we knew that we couldn't produce it on our own, and we knew that we wanted to work with somebody here locally,” Linebaugh says. “We’re grateful that we have UVU as a partner who helps support us on the production so that we can continue that tradition that exists for so many people here in this community.”

Since UVU partnered with Sundance in 2008, students, faculty, and staff have contributed to all aspects of the summer theatre series for the past 13 years.

“It’s a nice professional-level theatre experience that we can offer our students right here in Utah,” says Glenn Pepe, technical director for the UVU School of the Arts and the set designer for “Footloose.” “Our students benefit from this program by both having opportunities to act in the shows and also build, light, and run audio for it.”

Students played a major role in building the set of “Footloose,” working with professional carpenters to construct and design the scenery, which includes an iconic bridge that is a central location in the show. In addition, several students are performing as cast members, with Logan Murphy (’21) and Abigail Watts (’21) playing the featured parts of “Chuck” and “Wendy Jo,” respectively.

“Having the stakes be so high and getting to perform for such big audiences is really exciting,” Murphy says. “It prepares you for having jobs in the theatre and coming in and having like a two-week rehearsal process and being able to be prepared.”

Both Murphy and Watts say they appreciate the chance to perform in Sundance’s unique outdoor amphitheatre, which is perched near the almost 12,000-foot Mount Timpanogos. “There’s something about outdoor theatre that’s just really magical,” Murphy says. “Once in a while, we’ll see a rat run by, and so it seems more exciting.”

Watts notes that the process has involved “a lot of bug spray [and] a lot of SPF,” but she says, “Ultimately, it’s been really fun. It’s such a cool backdrop and place to be doing theatre and creating.”

Faculty and staff members involved with the show include former Adjunct Instructor Rob Moffat (director), Professor John Newman (producer), Adjunct Instructor Heather Shelley (“Ethel”), Adjunct Instructor Heather Jones (hair and makeup designer), former Professor Matt Taylor (lighting designer), and Professor Jeremy Sortore (intimacy director). Alumna Emily Griffith (’14) serves as the stage manager.

The musical is based on the 1984 cult-classic film “Footloose,” which was filmed locally in Utah County and features several scenes at Lehi Roller Mills. The story follows teenager Ren McCormack after he moves to a small Midwestern town called Bomont. Ren feels out of place and finds himself rebelling against the town’s strict laws, especially the ban on dancing. He resolves to shake things up by convincing his peers to throw a rock ’n’ roll prom.

While the show might seem like it has a silly premise on the surface, Watts suggests that “Footloose” has an important message about the need to express oneself and move forward after experiencing loss. This theme is especially timely in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as we move forward and begin to process collective loss and trauma. “As fun and kind of corny as this show is, I think it’s got a really heartwarming message, too, that it’s okay to move on and let go of your grief. Dance it out — cut loose!”

For more photos, view the Exposure gallery below from UVU Photo.