Pub quiz time. Which film, made in 1983 enjoyed the ‘largest February opening weekend in film history’? And which soundtrack album sold more than nine million copies in the USA and knocked Michael Jackson’s album ‘Thriller’ off the No 1 spot? The answer to both questions is, of course, Footloose and I caught up with the current UK touring production when it touched down at the Richmond Theatre.
In Chicago Illinois, Ren McCormack (Joshua Dowen) and his mother Ethel (Lindsay Goodhand) are preparing to up sticks and leave. Their destination is Bomont, a small town eight hours drive away from the Windy City. The next day, Ren and his mother, along with the rest of the town, attend church and listen to the preachings of Reverend Shaw Moore (Reuven Gershon). Also in the congregation are Rev Moore’s wife, Vi (Maureen Nolan) and daughter Ariel (Hannah Price). After the service, Ren gets to meet Ariel and her friends Rusty (Laura Sillett), Wendy-Jo (Emma Fraser) and Urleen (Gracie Lai) before the girls head off to the local diner to meet Ariel’s ‘boyfriend’ Chuck (Connor Going). Chuck is the local bad boy and Ariel finds him exciting. The next day at school, Ren meets local boy Willard Hewitt (Gareth Gates) and, despite their initial misgivings, they become friends. As he settles in, Ren realises there are some strange things going on in Bomont. By far the strangest is that there is a law forbidding dancing in the town. As the end of High School approaches, and the Bomont Seniors face graduation without a prom, something Ren and his new friends think is wrong and needs to be changed.
I was really looking forward to seeing Footloose. It was a great film that stands the test of time, unlike the remake – why Hollywood, why? On the whole, the live show doesn’t disappoint. Dean Pitchford has made some amendments to his original screenplay to make the show more stage friendly and for the most part, they really work. My one gripe is that they seemed to have dumbed down Willard a bit too much. Yes, he was always a country boy but he was also pretty smart. The new Willard with his Forest Gump “Momma Says” style didn’t really work for me. Having said that, Gareth Gates played him extremely well and wow, that boy has really grown up.
All of the traditional songs – ‘Holding out for a Hero’, Let’s Hear it for the Boy’ and of course ‘Footloose’ – are there but my favourite was a new one called ‘Learning to be Silent’ a really powerful song sung by Vi, Ethel and Ariel, which hints at the real heart of the problems with Bomont and sounded stunning.
Sara Perks revolving set works extremely well to create everything from a Church to a Roller Diner with a railroad in between and the costumes are just right for the show and create the right atmosphere for both the kids and adults. The mutli-talented actors are a true quadruple threat – acting, singing, dancing and playing multiple instruments with Lauren Storer being commended as the most versatile, playing Bari Sax, Tenor Sax, Keys, Flute, Clarinet, Bass and Harmonica. Now, that’s impressive. The leads, Joshua, Hanna and Gareth are all great and Joshua, in particular, puts a heck of a lot of energy into his performance as Ren – no stunt or dance doubles needed there – and there was a nice chemistry between him and Hannah’s Ariel. I also really liked the fact that Maureen Nolan’s part as Vi was expanded from the original. She is an interesting character and it was great to hear Maureen singing once more.
Overall, then Footloose is a really great night out. It is a feelgood ‘fish out of water’ musical that easily takes the audience on to a great journey of good songs, optimism and fun. Whilst no all the elements worked for me, I had a thoroughly great time and was up dancing with the rest of the audience by the end. The tour continues until September and when it comes to a town near you, I would really recommend you cut loose – as the saying goes – and just enjoy the fun. It may not be the stuff that dreams are made of but it’s definitely the stuff that good nights out are made of.
Review by Terry Eastham
Based on the 1984 screen sensation starring Kevin Bacon, Footloose: The Musical tells the story of city boy Ren, who has to move to a rural backwater in America where dancing is banned. All hell breaks out as Ren breaks loose and soon has the whole town up on its feet. Featuring classic 80s hits including Holding Out for a Hero, Almost Paradise, Let’s Hear it for the Boy and the unforgettable title track, Footloose: The Musical is set to take the world by storm once again in this brand new production, bursting with youthful spirit, dazzling dance and electrifying music.
When the film was released in 1984, it became the highest-grossing February release in US film history. The soundtrack album ended the year-long reign of Michael Jackson’s Thriller at number one and went on top album charts all over the world, eventually selling in excess of 17 million copies. Footloose was nominated for a Golden Globe, and both the title song and Let’s Hear It for the Boy received Academy Award nominations. Footloose: The Musical first opened on Broadway in 1998 where it ran for 709 performances, with a London production following in 2006, opening at the Novello Theatre following a UK Tour.
The cast features Gareth Gates as Willard and Maureen Nolan as Vi Moore.
Footloose: The Musical
Mon 15th – Sat 20th May 2017
Book Tickets for Richmond Theatre