Footloose: the musical

Footloose
Gareth Gates and ensemble in Footloose

Footloose, the classic 1984 film starring Kevin Bacon and an iconic title track, is an ode to teen rebellion and the liberating power of dance. Unfortunately, Racky Plew’s production does not translate the film to stage with particularly successful results.

Set in Bomont, a small American town that has banned dancing, Footloose: The Musical sees the arrival of rebel Ren McCormack from Chicago disrupt the peace maintained by the influence of Reverend Moore. Ariel, the minister’s equally rebellious daughter, is drawn to Ren and the two of them soon conspire to have the law against dancing revoked.

It’s a cheesy premise, with Dean Pitchford’s script piling on the high school romance and difficult parent-child relationship cliches. Unfortunately, the cast fail to imbue many of these scenes with real conviction, though hopefully this is something that will improve as the run progresses. Maintaining the required midwest accent is also a problem for some performers.

Thomas Cotran, standing in for Luke Baker in the lead role, doesn’t convince as a hell-raiser. His Ren is a likeable hero, but his frustration at his circumstances manifests itself more as awkwardness than anger. However, the scene in which he admits to the reverend how his father’s absence has affected him is genuinely moving.

Hannah Price shows more confidence in the role of Ariel, particularly in her excellent vocals. Her rendition of “Holding Out For A Hero” packs a punch, while the beautiful harmonies she creates with Vi Moore (Maureen Nolan) and Ren’s mother Ethel (Nicky Swift) in “Learning To Be Silent” highlight the song’s poignancy.

Besides these two numbers, the other musical stand-out is a lively performance of “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” by Joanna Sawyer and ensemble, which has everyone tapping their toes. “Footloose” itself appears twice, as the show opener and in the high school dance finale—neither version has the same rock ‘n’ roll appeal of the original song, though this may be down to sound level issues.

Music is provided by the cast themselves, who impressively juggle singing, dancing and playing several instruments each live onstage. While having the score played live really adds to the atmosphere, it also negatively impacts on the staging. A councilwoman uses her trumpet to call order at the meeting, whereas most of the time instruments aren’t even acknowledged by the characters when they’re not being played. Ariel storms out of the house following an argument with her father, only to head straight for the piano to play the next number.

Most crucially, wearing guitars or holding saxophones restricts the choreography—in a musical about dancing, it’s a crying shame that the only big, dynamic dance number is the finale.

One of the primary draws for this production is Gareth Gates as comic relief Willard. Whilst Gates is evidently a crowd-pleaser in his bashful scenes with Rusty—and in the “Holding Out For A Hero” number, where he is stripped of his denim costume and left in nothing but a tiny pair of shorts—it’s odd that he only performs one song in the whole show.

This production of Footloose: The Musical pays tribute to the ’80s with bright musical numbers and some strong individual performances, but overall it lacks sparkle.

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