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Footloose: The Musical - Novello Theatre (Review)


Review by David Munro

WILL the boom in Eighties musicals never end? After We Will Rock You and Tonight’s The Night comes Footloose a minor Eighties musical film now turned into a major musical stage show.

At least this has a postulated composer, even if there is a list of additional music credits, rather than a compilation of a rock band, or star’s erstwhile hits and back catalogue, which is something to its credit.

The story is a peg to hang the musical numbers on (which is par for the course in this type of show). Boy from the city hits a small town, ruled by bigots where all enjoyment is banned, particularly dancing, proceeds to take on the town and gets sanction to stage a dance to the great delight of all concerned and not least the audience.

It is primarily a dance show and as such it succeeds. A principally young cast leap, kick and gyrate with boundless energy at the behest of the choreographer/director, Karen Bruce. Her choreography, while modern, incorporates a lot of Balletic steps and in this respect resembles the work of the late Jerome Robbins. And no bad thing when the combination of Ballet and modern dance works, as it does here, so well.

I think she has also been very skilful in her selection of dancers as they perform difficult steps and movements with ease and without the air of awkwardness that has typified for so long the English dancer when faced with anything novel or adventurous. As it is, this is one of the better examples of well staged and well executed dancing to be seen on the stage today.

The leading man – I almost wrote lead dancer, for he is both – Derek Hough is an able dancer and shows off Miss Bruce’s choreography with style. He plays Ren McCormack, the boy who turns the town upside down, and as such has the lion’s share of the dancing, which he performs superbly and believably.

For me, though, he lacks the charisma and athleticism which Chris Jarvis brought to the role when I saw it on tour; I could not really visualise him leading a revolt or making trouble.

His love interest, Ariel, daughter of the town minister, is also well sung and danced by Lorna Want and is a perfect partner for him. She, too, has a style all her own and her performance of a feisty girl restricted by the town’s Puritanism was sexy without being vulgar – to coin a phrase. She also sings well although her higher notes were not helped by the inevitable over-amplification, which has now become the norm with “modern” musicals.

I must insert a word of warning here. This show was, for me, horribly over-amplified, at times rising to a pitch which was almost painful. This could have been because my seat in the upper circle was directly facing the four huge speakers shrieking out the music. Had I been downstairs, I might not have felt the effect so greatly. However, at times it was so loud as to render words inaudible and the music distorted.

As is typical in American “teen flicks”, Ariel has three contrasting girl friends – Rusty (Stevie Tate-Bauer), Urleen (Natasha McDonald) and Wendy Jo (Lisa Gorgin), who go through the evening commenting on the action like a Greek chorus and very effective they are too.

Of the three, Rusty is the more dominant role and she is played with great sense of comedy by Stevie Tate-Bauer. Her opposite number, and best mate of the hero, Willard Hewitt was played by Giovanni Spano whose efforts to learn to dance under the tuition of Derek Hough and the cast was one of the comedy high spots of the evening. He is, in fact, an excellent dancer in his own right as he proved in the ensembles and his other solos.

The high spirits of the youngsters were contrasted with the more sober scenes in the minister’s house where his wife – sensitively played by Cheryl Baker – is troubled by the bigot her husband has become. Stephen McGann, as the minister, plays him with a sufficient sense of self doubt to make his subsequent recantation and approval of the High School dance believable. The scenes between them were merciful moments of peace from the blaring cacophony of the rest of the show.

The rest of the grown-ups, if one could call them that, had little to do but disapprove of the goings on by the children. The exception was Jen’s mother – Caroline Deverill – who, apart from looking young enough to have been his sister, supported his rebellion.

To me this production, good though parts of it are, lacked the incisiveness and vigour of the Paul Kerryson one I saw on tour a couple of years back.

However, if you can stand the noise, this is a pleasant song and dance show, clearly aimed at the younger disco set who should, if the audience last night was anything to go by, find it acceptable. So now you know!

Footloose – Stage adaptation by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie. Based on the screenplay by Dean Pitchford.
Music – Tom Snow.
Lyrics – Dean Pitchford.
Additional music by Eric Carmen, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins and Jim Steinman.
Director and Choreographer – Karen Bruce.
Set and Costume designer – Morgan Large.
Lighting – James Whiteside.
Sound – Gareth Owen for Orbital.
Musical Director – Stephen Owens.

CAST: Stephen McGann; Cheryl Baker; Derek Hough; Lorna Want; Johnny Shentall; Giovanni Spano; Stevie Tate-Bauer; Natasha McDonald; Lisa Gorgin; Ian Gareth Jones; Gavin Alex; Caroline Deverill; Martin Johnston; Chris Adams; Fem Belling; Ivan de Freitas; Bob Harms; Debbie Jenkins; Jane McMurtie; Grant Murphy; Graham Newell; Sarah O’Gleby; Natalie Somerville; Ruthie Stevens.
Produced by Mark Goucher & Michael Rose Ltd for Footloose 2004 Ltd. Tristan Baker & Jason Haigh-Ellery.
Novello Theatre, The Aldwych, London, WC2.
Evenings: Mon – Thurs: 7.45pm/Fri: 5.30pm & 8.30pm/Sat: 3pm & 7.45pm.
Box Office: 0870 950 0935.