Footloose the Musical
Stage Adaptation by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie, with music by Tom Snow and additional music by Eric Carmen, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins and Jim Steinman. Lyrics by Dean Pitchford
Review by Bronagh Taggart
Teenage rebellion is the focus of the story of Footloose, but the teenagers of Bomont in Hicksville, America, have more to be rebellious about than most. Five years previously, following a fatal car accident, the town council banned all dancing (the fact that the teenage victims were under the influence of marijuana and alcohol seems to have escaped the town elders' notice - dancing was made the scapegoat).
Into this closed world comes an outsider from Chicago, Ren McCormack (played by Derek Hough). Having just been abandoned by his father, Ren has problems of his own. He lives to dance and determines to change the ways, not only of his peers, but of the whole town.
He meets with particular resistance from the local Reverend, Shaw Moore (played by Stephen McGann) whose daughter, Ariel (Lorna Want) is also a bit of a renegade. Despite Ariel's crush on bad-boy Chuck (Johnny Shentall), she and Ren are drawn to each other. For Ariel, Ren represents a ticket out of Bomont and a respite from the restrictions placed on her life by her hapless father.
Originally a 1984 film starring Kevin Bacon, Footloose was one of a clutch of coming-of-age films such as Flashdance, Dirty Dancing and, earlier, Grease where teenagers fought against the small-minded oppression of the adults that surrounded them through the power of dance. First adapted for the Broadway stage in 1998, it doesn't have the romantic power of Dirty Dancing, nor the unadulterated nostalgia of Grease but what it lacks in story, it makes up for in energy and passion.
The writer Dean Pitchford adapted his original screenplay for the stage. I wonder whether he allowed himself to be constrained too much by considerations such as budget, as rather too much seemed to be happening off stage rather than on. A big feature of the film, for example, was the resolution involving Ariel and her violent boyfriend, Chuck, who gets his well-earned come-uppance. This doesn't happen in the musical and we feel the lack of it.
Karen Bruce's choreography and direction was sharp, vibrant and brilliantly executed by the cast. Though very much eighties in style, the energy will still appeal to today's teenager. Several of the songs are well known and in the main they are likely to be belted out, rather than hummed by the audience on the way home (residents near the Novello Theatre, be warned). Many were covered by other artists - 'Holding out for a Hero' (which almost became an anthem for Bonnie Tyler) and 'Let's Hear it for the Boy' (a hit for Deniece Williams) didn't disappoint. Unfortunately, the sound quality didn't always do the actors justice, especially in the first act, and the music drowned out the lyrics on occasion. In the second act however, the music is more textured, with different styles showing through, including country and western.
Cheryl Baker (who plays Reverend Moore's wife) has a couple of moving numbers, especially, 'Can you find it in your heart' as she struggles to tread the line between loyal wife and caring mother. (She also provides one of the comic moments as her co-star Stephen McGann whips off her skirt in true Bucks Fizz style). Stephen McGann wasn't entirely successful as the kill-joy father as there was a bit too much of the 'trendy vicar' about him and less real gravitas. The script doesn't help as his character is seen to change his mind for no reason and without showing any true development.
The production has a real star in Derek Hough who is an outstanding dancer but also portrays Ren as the epitome of cool. He and Lorna Want make engaging leads and carry the audience along on a tide of passion. On the opening night, there seemed to be no end to the energy as they carried on doing more and more encores.
As well as teenage angst, Footloose, is all about fun and the carefree nature of being a teen, which of course is never fully appreciated at the time. As the comedy lead Willard, Giovanni Spano gives a good performance and there are moments of high camp in that teen-movie essential, the drug store scene!
The show has completed two national tours and this is its first outing in the West End. If the cast manage to keep up this level of energy, it should do well, cornering not only the teenage market, but all those who remember the eighties with fondness too.
Sheila Connor reviewed this production in its pre-West End tour