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Footloose ought to cut straight to the West End now!



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 a list of additional music credits, rather than a compilation of a rock band, or star’s erstwhile hits, which is the first thing to its credit.

I say first advisedly, because this show has a lot going for it and, giving credit where credit is due, it notches up an awful lot of credits in my book.

The story is a peg to hang the musical numbers on, which is par for the course. 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, is terrific. A principally young cast leap, kick and gyrate with boundless energy to the choreography of Karen Bruce.

Miss Bruce was, I see from her resume, once associate director with Arlene Phillips, and she has learned her lesson well and beaten her erstwhile boss at her own game.

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 incredibly well.

I think she has also been very skillful 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.

In my view, this is one of the best , if not the best, examples of well-staged and brilliantly executed dancing to be seen on the stage today

The leading man - I almost wrote lead dancer, for he is both - Chris Jarvis, is one of the most exciting personalities I have seen in a long time.

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.

He is a masculine dancer in the best sense of the word. Whereas, in so many ‘modern’ musicals like Grease or Saturday Night Fever, the leading man/dancer, while expert, gives out an aura of sinuous, almost feminine charm, Jarvis is just the opposite.

He gives his part muscle and a down to earth male sexiness, which is fantastic to watch. He is called upon to perform difficult physical and gymnastic steps, which he accomplishes with an insouciance that is incredible, and a delight to see and in the more balletic areas of the choreography, he excels there as well.

If that were not enough, he sings and acts well, displaying a persona of male cocksureness tinged with diffidence which makes his character, and the actions he is called upon to perform for purpose of plot, seem natural and credible.

I would love to see him in a Jerome Robbins’ choreographed role, in, for example, a revival of On the Town, where his talents could be exploited more fully.

His love interest, Ariel, daughter of the town minister, is also beautifully sung and danced by Rachel Wooding 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.

As is typical in American ‘teen flicks’, she has three contrasting girlfriends - Rusty (Cassidy Janson), Urleen (Julie McKenna) and Wendy Jo (Lucy Newton) - 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 Janson, whom I remember being rather disparaging about in Brenda Bly - well, I am not now.

Her opposite number, and best mate of the hero, Willard Hewitt was played by Taylor Woods, whose efforts to learn to dance under the tuition of Chris Jarvis 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 Marilyn Cutts - is troubled by the bigot her husband has become. Craig Pinder, 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 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 (played by Verity Bentham), who, apart from looking old enough to have been his sister, supported his rebellion and had an effective number to help her do so.

Paul Kerryson pulled the dancing and dramatics seamlessly together, helped by Kentaur’s austere set, which mainly consisted of steel pillars which acted as ladders, stairs and supports for the bridges on which part of the action was staged, leaving room for the energetic dance routines on the stage below.

This production is avowedly a tour, but one hopes that it will subsequently come to rest in the West End, where it certainly belongs.

Talent, as is displayed in this production by the principals and ensemble alike, deserves that accolade. I look forward to revisiting it there in its second or third year when it has become a fixture and is footloose no more.

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, Paul Kerryson; Set Designer, Kentaur; Costume designer, Andy Edwards; Lighting, Chris Ellis; Sound, Clement Rawling; Choreographer, Karen Bruce; Musical director, Chris Hatt.
CAST: Chris Jarvis; Rachel Wooding; Marilynn Cutts; Craig Pinder; Verity Bentham; Richard Taylor Woods; Taylor James; Cassidy Janson; Julie McKenna; Lucy Newton; Ian Gareth Jones; Tim Newman; Jennifer Meldrum; Guy Oliver Watts; Alan Bradshaw; Peter Edbrook; Sally Bayes; Joey Bryans; Anthony Cranwell; Amanda Coutts; Joe Van Haeften; Melanie Housley; Craig McDermott; Johanna Stanton; Gemma Whitelam; Kate Alexander; Joseph Prouse.
Produced by Mark Goucher - Michael Rosso Ltd, for Footloose 2004 Ltd, Clear Channel Entertainment, Tristan Baker Productions, in arrangement with Theatre Royal, Plymouth.
New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon, London, SW19 1QG.
Monday, June 21 – Saturday, June 26, 2004. Evenings: Mon - Sat: 7.30pm; Matinees: Thurs. and Sat: 2.30pm. Box Office: 0870 060 1827.

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