Kevin Bacon has apparently spent 25 years bribing DJs not to play Footloose at parties. He’s never quite been able to live down the legacy of his iconic role in the 1984 movie.
Implausibly but actually based on a real Midwest American town in the 1979, Footloose tells the story of a Chicago boy, Ren, who moves with his newly single mother to the little Bible-belt community of Bomont only to find the local reverend has had dancing banned.
Ren’s mission, from hereon in, is to overturn the rules and get the schoolkids jumping and jiving again.
It’s not a tale to tax the brain too heavily, but that’s not what Footloose is about. What it’s about is the dancing, and this energetic, highly-charged touring production scores on every possible level as far as the dancing goes.
With a thumping score performed by a driving pit band under musical director Julian Reeve, it races from song to song pausing only to change sets (cleverly designed by Morgan Large). The biggest impact comes from barnstormers such as Holding Out for a Hero and the title track, but the best moments come from the quieter ballads, here performed wonderfully by Karen Ascoe as the preacher’s wife and Carys Gray as Ren’s lonely mum.
Busted star Matt Willis is nominally the headliner, but in truth his part is minor. More important are the roles of the reverend and Ren, and here Steven Pinder (late of Brookside) and Max Milner respectively come into their own. Pinder has a surprisingly mellow voice and really acts his emotion-filled part, while Milner has apparently boundless energy and infectious enthusiasm as he blasts his way through the show, ably contrasted by Lorna Want as Ariel, the preacher’s daughter who finds her soulmate in the new arrival.
Karen Bruce’s direction relies heavily on some stunning choreography brilliantly presented by the large, mainly youthful cast, but she also finds touching and poignant moments of stillness within the tidal wave of movement.
There’s great music, fine singing and superb dancing, and if the whole doesn’t quite hang from the flimsy storyline, there’s plenty of visual excitement to make up for the lack of mental stimulation.