MusicalNorth East & YorkshireReview

Footloose: The Musical – Tyne Theatre & Opera House, Newcastle upon Tyne

Director: Racky Plews

Choreographer: Matthew Cole

Musical Director: David Keech

Reviewer: Mark Clegg

Before becoming the UK’s leading mobile phone salesman, Kevin Bacon danced his way to stardom in the 1984 movie Footloose as Ren McCormack, a big-city kid who moves to a small town that has a ban on dancing. As the movie is fondly remembered, it inevitably got adapted into a stage musical in 1998. Since then Footloose the Musical has been performed many times, its air of nostalgia and a handful of memorable pop songs generally enough to attract audiences. This production from Sell A Door Theatre Company is the latest tour that hopes to persuade people to kick off their Sunday shoes.

After a rather flat opening, things pick up once Ren (Luke Baker) starts to dance. Baker looks and moves perfectly in the role. His vocals and acting are also very good and he, along with Hannah Price as a lovely, fiery Ariel carry much of the show between them. Both, particularly Price deserve to move on to greater things. Similar can be said of Luke Thornton as Willard – a role advertised to be played by Gareth Gates but understudied at this performance due to ill health – who displays a great comedy presence in this scene-stealing role. Unfortunately, other cast members fare less well: Maureen Nolan makes no impression in the supporting role of minister’s wife Vi, and Nigel Lister lacks both the power and the charisma required for Rev. Shaw.

However, one has to be impressed with the overall flexibility of the cast. As well as acting, singing and dancing (and moving scenery), almost everyone on stage also plays a musical instrument. In fact, the only member of the band who is not also in the cast is musical director David Keech on drums. A cynic would suggest that this has been done for financial as opposed to artistic reasons. Although cast members playing instruments is increasingly common these days, this piece does not suit such an approach, particularly when many dramatic scenes are played with characters innocuously holding a trumpet or guitar. The only time this does work is in the toe-tapping finale medley.

While mostly entertaining, and sometimes thrilling (Holding Out for a Hero is brilliantly staged), this production sadly lacks polish. Much of this seems to be due to the cast being given too much responsibility and no chance to focus on their performances. The drama of the piece looks to have been given the least attention and so scenes that should induce tears, instead produce yawns – Racky Plews’ direction is too keen to rush through to the next musical number. Matthew Cole’s choreography is functional without ever really being spectacular, the same can be said of the scenery, and the whole thing was grossly under-lit (although this seemed to be due to a technical hitch). The sound was balanced beautifully, though.

Disappointing to report, this production does not quite have what it takes to make you want to forcibly remove the footwear that is exclusively worn on the Sabbath.

Runs until 16 July 2016 | Image: Contributed

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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