In the 90’s, boy bands and Britney Spears ruled music (and our hearts). And I knew all the words to I Want it That Way, still declared N*SYNC better than the Backstreet Boys, and harbored a not-so-secret love of show tunes. In the privacy of my bedroom, I wasn’t listening to z100, I was listening to Rent, and Ragtime, and Footloose: The Musical (based on the awesome 80s Kevin Bacon film of the same name). Footloose played on my stereo on a constant loop from 1998 through 2000. My friends referred to my love of this musical as an obsession. I called it a deep and enduring love for the music, the story, and especially the man who played Ren McCormack, Jeremy Kushnier.
I was super lucky to be able to go to the Broadway opening night of the show. My friend’s dad was a professional actor and he got us second row orchestra seats and tickets to the after party at the Marriott Marquis. The super theater nerd that I was (still am…) was on the edge of her seat. And then the music starts (play the opening lines of Footloose in your mind) and the green parachute came down from where it had been stretched from the proscenium to the stage, and there stood Jeremy Kushnier (“I been working, so hard!”). At 15, I had never seen anyone so gorgeous with so much star power and presence up close. He literally took my breath away. I think my jaw was dropped and hanging open for the entire first act. At intermission and after the show I couldn’t stop talking about how amazing he was and told my friends that it was my mission to meet him at the party.
And meet him I did. I don’t remember the exact details of the meeting (swoon!), but he took a picture with my friends and me and was obviously very nice since I was a fawning teenage fangirl (before being a fangirl was even a thing). It was one of the best nights of my life and I wasn’t ready to let go of the show (or Jeremy) just yet.
Through most of the show’s run (from October 22, 1998 to July 2, 200) I was a presence at the Richard Rodgers Theater on 46th Street. I loved the show so much that I even made a scrapbook filled with all of the pictures from opening night as well as everything I could find written about the show (so I decoupaged the cover…). I saw the show 6 times, but beyond that I was at the stage door almost every weekend. My theater group rehearsed on Saturdays in Manhattan until 2:00 and then I would wander around the city with my friends and end up on 46th street by 4:20 when I knew the show was getting out. This was before the days of barricades at the stage door so I could mingle with the cast members, pretty much all of them recognized me and would wave or give me a hug. I would wave nervously at Jeremy, who, so sweetly, always made a point to say hi to me and ask how I was. I would giggle and blush nervously and sometimes ask him to take another picture with me, or meet a friend of mine that I had brought to see him up close. He was so gracious and kind when he could have just waved or ignored me completely. Jeremy and the entire cast of Footloose made me feel part of something really special, which I was desperate for.
So clearly it was an obsession. Don’t we all obsess over something when we’re teenagers? Maybe it’s music, or a character in a novel, or our hair, but with emotions and hormones raging the way they do during adolescence, its no wonder we find things to latch on to that just make us feel good. Jeremy and the cast of Footloose made me feel like I was special and exciting at a time in my life when I felt like I was neither of those things, and I will always remember them for that.
After Footloose closed (I was at the last performance, obviously!), I did manage to move on and somehow find different music to listen to and other ways to fill my weekends. I did follow Jeremy’s career though as he toured with Aida and went around the country. I saw him in Rent when he was back in New York and I was in college. Most recently, he was in Jesus Christ Superstar, which I saw three times only because he was in it. I think that there are things that happen to you when you’re a kid that define you and never quite go away. It’s why 80s icons are still popular today. Jeremy will always bring me comfort because thats the sense memory I have of him from when I was a kid. I can’t apologize for my obsession. I can just embrace it, laugh about it, and be thankful that I had it.
This is us just a few months ago. He still remembered me after 14 years!
So what do you guys think? Who or what defined your teenage years? Leave it in the comments!
Read more about Broadway here: I ::Heart:: Times Square