Without the fabulous fancy footwork of dance sensation Derek Hough as Ren McCormack, the high school teenager forced to move with his mum from the toddling town of Chicago to the terrible town of Bomont where dancing has been banned, Footloose could have easily ended up limping back into the West End after a seven-month run at the Novello and a successful UK tour.
But as the touring version now comes dancing into the more compact Playhouse Theatre until December (returning at the end of February after a Christmas season of Tintin), tall and slender Tommy Sherlock steps into Ren’s sneakers and sets your pulse aflutter with a fearless, streetwise dance style of his own, while allowing you to watch his character grow in confidence, from gangly youth who can’t quite fit and misses his dad, to young man with joy in his heart, rhythm in his legs and a gorgeous blonde girl called Ariel (Miria Parvin) on his arm.
You can easily see why this curly-haired charmer exudes enough wisdom to change the mournful Bomont mindset by wrong-footing preachy Reverend Moore (Julian Agnew), Ariel’s Bible-bashing father and local religious policeman who predictably undergoes a Scrooge-like conversion – the signal for teens and adult townsfolk alike to sing from a new hymn-sheet and dance their socks off to “Let’s Hear It for the Boy”, “Holding Out for a Hero” and the frenetic “Footloose”.
Giovanni Spano remains the show’s comic star turn as Willard Hewitt, the shy kid with two left feet who miraculously turns into Bomont’s equivalent of Gene Kelly, and Lyn Paul as Vi, the preacher’s wife facing a spiritual crisis of her own, tugs a few maternal heartstrings during her solo numbers.
It’s a pity the over-amplified soundtrack is more suited to the O2 Centre than the Playhouse’s close-up auditorium. Still, once you’ve finally adjusted your own personal decibel toleration level (a woman sitting near me spent the entire first act with a finger in one ear), director-choreographer Karen Bruce’s hot dance routines remain inspiring and reliably exhilarating enough to ensure that Footloose will your keep both feet tapping all the way home – well, at least to the nearest Tube.
- Roger Foss
NOTE: The following THREE-STAR review dates from April 2006 and this production’s last West End season at the Novello Theatre.
The teendance musical takes off and gets down once more with this high-energy hop-fest about a Chicago lad turning an American Midwest community up on its toes after the local reverend has banned high school high jinks.
Dean Pitchford wrote music, book and lyrics for the 1984 movie featuring Kevin Bacon as the messianic hoofer Ren McCormack, John Lithgow as the preacher, Lori Singer as the ready-to-rock preacher’s daughter, and Sarah Jessica Parker in support – as well as those frantic foot-tapping close-ups over the credits.
I managed to miss the Broadway stage version by Pitchford and Walter Bobbie in 1998, but am glad to have caught it now, if only to test its provenance against Grease, Fame and Flashdance. Karen Bruce’s production is a primary-coloured riot of rock, jive and pelvis pumping that only an uncool curmudgeon could resist. In this latter role, I was maintaining a good performance until Ren (Derek Hough) taught chubby Willard (Giovanni Spano) how to arrange his hips and pucker up his haunches and the floodgates, so to speak, opened.
(Bizarrely, two rows of the stalls were covered in plastic sheeting on opening night, suggesting there might be an outbreak of incontinence or prostate problems in the Critics’ Circle. The real explanation was more mundane – the theatre was flooded by a faulty wash basin in the balcony over the Easter weekend.)
By this time, too, the ice-cold preacher (Stephen McGann) was beginning to melt. His five-year crusade of Puritanism was the result of a car crash that killed four local kids, including his son. Moore’s wife Vi is attractively played and sung by Cheryl Baker of Bucks Fizz fame, and her daughter Ariel – torn between local bad boy Chuck (Johnny Shentall) and the groovy new kid with the centre parting – by Lorna Want, full of desire.
The hits are belted out with brio, the girls in the burger bar joined by a crew of calendar hunks resembling the Village People for the show-stopping “Holding out for a Hero” (on press night, I was sitting next to the irrepressible Su Pollard who screamed, “Do it again!”).
But the star (despite Su’s efforts) is Derek Hough as Ren, an elasticated blond bombshell whose limbs seem to be treble-jointed and whose control and execution of moves at high speed is a wonder of the West End stage. “You can save your Bacon,” he seems to be saying, “It’s my chance now.” And, oh boy, does he take it.
- Michael Coveney
NOTE: The following FOUR-STAR review dates from January 2006 and an earlier tour stop for this production.
Packed with energy and fizzing with verve, this touring production of Footloose, The Musical, goes a long way to please fans of the original 1980s movie. Its big hits, in particular "Holding out for a Hero" and "Mama Says", are presented with a real sense of theatre and its stars do enough to help you forget who was actually in the original.
Derek Hough is flamboyant and cocky as Ren McCormack, the city lad with a penchant for dancing who ends up in dead-end Bomont. Due to a tragic accident four years before, all dancing is banned within the town. Ren soon becomes the grownup locals’ new whipping boy - and the apple in the eye of Ariel, rebellious daughter of the Reverend Moore, who’s behind the ban.
It's flimsy stuff, but more than adequate as a plot for a musical, with plenty of points where the cast can put real flesh on the bones. Hough creates a particularly strong partnership with Giovanni Spano as his new best mate, the tongue-tied but beefy Willard Hewitt. Their initial meeting, Willard's dance tutorials and his explanation to Ren how about his Mamma sees life, are all well observed as well as enticingly executed.
Hough and Lorna Want, as Ariel, also strike up a strong on-stage presence, although Want could make much more of a character trying to break out from under a domineering father. Stephen McGann is moderately successful as the Reverend Moore, although his singing could be stronger. It’s left to Cheryl Baker, as his long-suffering wife Vi, to find some grounding for the up-tempo dance numbers to sound off.
Stevie Tate-Bauer, Natasha McDonald and Lisa Gorgin ensure that Ariel's best pals Rusty, Urleen and Wendy Jo are well created while keeping the singing and dancing quality way up high, even if Tate-Bauer could have increased Rusty's passion for Willard.
It’s with the dancing that this show really makes its mark, thanks to a fantastically tight, ten-strong ensemble to augment the 13 named characters. Not only is there always something going on, but it is invariably worth watching. The diner day-dream sequence for "Holding Out for a Hero" will certainly please all those who like to see well-toned pectoral muscles flashing around in perfect and energetic synchronisation.
All told, a great girls’ night out.
- Thom Dibdin (reviewed at King's Theatre, Edinburgh)