New Wimbledon Theatre 2 – 7 May. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
On paper, I should have loved this musical. But I left disappointed, feeling as if I’d watched some low budget daytime movie on Channel 5.
Based on the 1984 film, Footloose tells the story of Ren McCormack, who leaves Chicago with his newly separated mother to move in with his uncle in Bomont, West Virginia. Ren clashes with the locals, especially Rev Moore, who oversees the town council. Following a fatal accident, dancing is banned in Bomont, but Ren takes his friends, including Rev Moore’s daughter Ariel, to a dance hall out of town, and they decide to hold a dance of their own. They need the council’s permission though, and Ren must try to find common ground with Rev Moore.
This is a deliciously corny story, with comedy pal Willard for Ren to coach in dance and love, and the production is cheesier than aisle 3 in Waitrose, especially the Legs and Co. style choreography, but it just didn’t feel like a coherent show. Adapted from his own screenplay by Dean Pickford and Walter Bobbie, the script is pretty standard fare, with some great one liners, but it is the musical numbers that let it down. Apart from Footloose (full of energy and fun), Holding Out For A Hero (belted out with glee and VERY tongue in cheek), Let’s Hear It For The Boy (hysterical) and a couple of other familiar songs, the remainder are forgettable, with awkward rhymes and trite lyrics, especially the numbers that are meant to be deep and meaningful. Perhaps the show’s creators should have leaned more towards a jukebox musical and used the entire film soundtrack? As it is, the elements just don’t gel.
Director Racky Plews’ decision to use actor-musicians is a gimmick that doesn’t quite work, the only payoff being during the town council scene. The cast are mostly talented musicians, but this aspect just got a little messy, with one poor girl clutching her instrument silently all the way through a slow number.
The cast did well with the material they had to work with – Luke Baker is a livewire Ren, a great little dancer and with a nice comedic touch, especially in the scenes with his mother (Nicky Swift – a hoot in every role she plays in the show. Just watch her skate!), Hannah Price has a lovely voice as Ariel, and just about manages to keep the audience’s sympathy with her difficult character before we hear her backstory. Nigel Lister and Maureen Nolan are landed with the worst songs in the show, but do a fine job. Joanna Sawyer’s Rusty (what a voice!) and Lee Brennan’s Willard provide the heart of the show with their sweet, ridiculous romance, but I have no words to describe Brennan’s performance. Don’t get me wrong, he still has a lovely husky voice, but his acting choices seemed to be inspired by Scrappy Doo, Gary Coleman and the Firey gang from Labyrinth. Funny at first, but bizarre, and he is either going to stab himself with that toothpick or dislocate his jaw if he keeps that chewing action going throughout the run.
Perhaps if I hadn’t seen the film so many times I might have been more impressed, but I wasn’t feeling the joy of the rest of the audience as they got up to dance at the end (to songs from the film). Footloose the Musical is a decent enough show, but it just lacks that class and sparkle that would make it great.