Book: Dean Pitchford, adapted by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie
Music: Tom Snow
Lyrics: Dean Pitchford
Director: Racky Plews
Reviewer: James Garrington
Not so long ago – not even 40 years in fact – there was a town in America where it was illegal to dance in public. Until, that is, a group of high school kids fought to get the law changed. If that sounds like a movie plot, it is – but it’s also a true story, and forms the basis for Footloose, the 1984 film, which itself became the stage musical of the same name.
Circumstances force city boy Ren and his mother to move to Bomont, a small town in Bible Belt America. There he finds himself, and his liberal ideas, far from welcome – especially when he seems to be attracting the romantic attentions of Ariel, daughter of the town preacher, who is dating abusive bad-boy, Chuck. Realising that the town’s teenagers have nowhere to let off steam, Ren proposes a dance – only to discover that dancing is banned in the town. As this is a feel-good stage musical, it’s not hard to guess the rest.
Although based on a true story, the details of the plot as portrayed here seem somewhat twee and predictable – but that’s not really what the show is about. It’s a high-energy music and dance show, with a lot of humour and many light moments – and full marks to Matthew Cole for some wonderful choreography. Deciding to use actor-musicians in place of a traditional band is always tricky, often doesn’t work, needing great care to ensure that they don’t seem incongruous. In this instance, they work well, and it is clear that director Racky Plews has given a lot of thought to the use of the instruments so they almost always fit in with the story at the time. There are some great musicians on the stage too, creating a vibrant sound entirely suited to the production although it feels as though some of the cast are there for their musicianship rather than vocal ability which occasionally jars somewhat.
A strong company has been assembled for this production with many good performances and some superb vocals and dancing. Among the largely young cast, a handful of performances stand out. Luke Baker takes centre stage as Ren, showing some good vocal ability in a performance that is both fiery and tender as he takes on the establishment and tries to win his girl. Opposite him as Ariel is Hannah Price in her first professional role, showing a wonderful vulnerability alongside a feisty temperament as she struggles to move on from the past and escape her claustrophobic surroundings. With great vocals, good dance skills, and excellent musicianship on display too, Price must surely have a good career ahead of her.
The strength of a company can be tested when one of the headline star names is unable to perform. It’s hard to tell whether anyone in the audience was at all disappointed by Gareth Gates being indisposed, as he will be all week, but one thing is for sure – the production did not suffer for it in the least. Stepping into his shoes, and clearly very competent to do so, is Luke Thornton as Willard, a shy young man struggling to find both his voice and love. Thornton has a good sense of comic timing and, as Willard, shows a touching shyness that makes you want to wish him well. The love interest in this case is Rusty, played by Joanna Sawyer with an equally good sense of comedy and a huge voice as she belts out the big numbers like Holding Out for a Hero and Let’s Hear it for the Boy.
Although it uses some 1980s pop music, this is not a jukebox musical and Tom Snow’s original music includes some memorable numbers, some of which have become well-known in their own right. The show ends with the almost traditional mega-mix of some of the songs from the show with the whole company on stage, and the audience on their feet clapping and dancing with them. It’s guaranteed to give you a buzz and get you singing on your way home.
Runs until 9 July 2016 | Image: Contributed