Carmel Valley mom ready to head back to stage for production of ‘Footloose’


By Karen Billing

Carmel Valley mom Debra Wanger is taking the stage in San Diego Musical Theatre’s “Footloose,” running Sept. 28 through Oct. 14 at the Birch North Park Theatre. Wanger, a mother of three, stars as mom Ethel in the nostalgic ’80s show.

“The adults all remember the movie, but to the kids it’s kind of a period piece,” jokes Wanger.

Wanger started in theater at age 9 and has been performing in shows on and off ever since. She worked as a singer and actress in shows at the Welk Resort Theatre, La Jolla Stage, San Diego Repertory Theatre, and Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company before going on “baby hiatus” after the birth of her twins, now 7, and her 19-month-old daughter.

She had always been impressed with SDMT shows and jumped at the opportunity to perform with the group, fitting time into her busy schedule to rehearse. It was hard work, but worth it to return to doing something she loves, something that “makes mommy happy.”

“This will be the first time that my twins will see me on stage,” Wanger said, noting the Girl Scout troop and all the moms will be coming to the show. “The moms are excited because we all remember the movie. It was an important coming of age piece for all of us and we all had crushes on Kevin Bacon.”

Wanger plays Ethel, mother of the main character, the teenage Ren, who moves to a town where dancing and rock music have been banned.

“It’s hysterical to me that I’ve moved on to playing the mom,” Wanger said. “She’s been through a tough road. Her husband left her and she’s raising her teen son by herself. She has to move to this podunk town with her sister and tries to keep her son out of trouble.”

Wanger doesn’t have to do much of the “cut loose” dancing, but she does sing a song with the other moms when all the “athletic dancing and teenage energy stops for a minute.” Playing Ethel, she gets to act out a mother’s struggle and a bit of redemption.

“Ethel goes through a journey herself. As her son finds his voice and the town goes through a transformation, she goes through a transformation as well,” Wanger said. “She learns to speak up for herself and helps to encourage Ren to keep the faith and stand up for himself, which in the past she wasn’t able to do.”

Wanger said she is continually wowed by her young SDMT co-stars.

“Vocally, it’s very demanding, a lot of tight harmonies, all while dancing,” said Wanger. “I’m grateful to be playing an adult.”

Tickets for “Footloose” can be purchased online at or by calling (858) 560-5740. The Birch North Park Theatre is located at 2891 University Avenue, San Diego, 92104.