Sunderland Empire, Sunderland – until 11th June 2022
Reviewed by Stee Leahy
Footloose at the Sunderland Empire was an energetic and fun re-telling of the 80’s classic. After a delayed start, and a quick voiceover explaining that all the instruments in the show would all be played by the cast, the show opened with a bang!
During the first musical number ‘Footloose’ we were introduced to Joshua Hawkins’ Ren McCormack, a fun and charismatic young man telling his friends he’s leaving his home town to move to Bomont. “Where the hell is Bomont!”
Joshua’s take on Ren was excellent. He played him with an endearing confidence, displaying light and shade perfectly, in particular in scenes with his mother Ethel McCormack, played by the diverse Wendy Paver respectively.
Darren Day’s take on the shows antagonist, Rev. Moore was nothing less that brilliant. Day’s character dynamics were fantastic. He was softly spoken yet his stage presence and physicality were powerful and dominating. Rounding off the character of the Reverend were Day’s brilliantly crisp vocals.
The shows lovable and funny Willard Hewitt was portrayed by the talented Jake Quickenden. Quickenden captured all the dorky humour you’d expect from the character, and then some! During act two Quickenden performed ‘Mama Says’ with sensationally smooth vocals. Willard was absolutely adored by the audience. (I think the gold hot pants during ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ only added to it.)
I must say, the shows show stopping moment came from none other than the insanely talented Lucy Munden as Ariel Moore performing ‘Holding Out For A Hero’. These vocals were some of the best I’ve ever heard. Munden’s Ariel was nothing less that perfection. She brought a spice to the character, yet at the same time she played with such heart and vulnerability. Munden and Hawkins are brilliant duo.
Ariel’s three best girlfriends, Rusty played by Oonagh Cox, Urleen by Samantha Richards and Wendy-Jo by Jess Barker, we’re fabulous. Richards and Barker were perfect comedy relief, bouncing off one another with great results. The way Cox brought Rusty to life was magical, those vocals – wow. Both she and Quickenden worked so incredibly well together and ‘Let’s Hear It For The Boy’ was greatly uplifting. The audience were all bopping along.
Holly Ashton’s take on Vi Moore was tender and sweet. She really fulfilled that calm essence of the character and whenever she played opposite Darren Day, you could hear a pin drop. Her quality acting was equally matched by her vocals. The shows villain, Chuck was played by Tom Mussell.
Mussell brought a fresh humour to the role. Whilst been a real bad guy, his Chuck made the audience laugh a few times, that dynamic was fun!
This cast, including Ben Mabberley as Jeter/Cowboy Bob, Alex Fobbester as Bickle and Ben Barrow as Wes are incredible. The show has a great sense of teamwork, made all that more strong due to the fact each of them played an instrument at some point or another.
The set was simple but effective. And framed the action well.
This version of the beloved classic is a hit and not one to be missed.