Last night (18 April), many national critics were at Stratford-upon-Avon, casting their eyes over Romeo and Juliet, the opening production in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Complete Works Festival (See News, 8 Feb 2006). Others stayed in the London for the opening night of Footloose at the West End’s Novello Theatre (See Today’s Other News for our 1st Night Photos).

While some of those went home dancing in the streets, others were rather more flat-footed in their response to Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie’s adaptation of the high-energy 1984 film starring Kevin Bacon and Lori Singer.

Directed and choreographed by Olivier Award winner Karen Bruce, Footloose tells the tale of dance-mad city boy Ren who moves to Bomont, a rural backwater in America where dancing is banned, but eventually gets the entire town up on its feet. Featuring hit songs from the original movie soundtrack, such as “Let’s Hear It for the Boy”, “Holding out for a Hero” and the title track “Footloose”, the show stars former World Champion Latin American dancer Derek Hough as Ren, with Lorna Want, Cheryl Baker, Stephen McGann and Johnny Shentall in the cast.

  • Michael Coveney on – “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 taught chubby Willard (Giovanni Spano) how to arrange his hips and pucker up his haunches and the floodgates, so to speak, opened…” The star of the evening, he added, “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.”

  • Ruth Leon in the Daily Express – “It may not be the best show in town, but it is undoubtedtly the loudest. It is as though the sound director has decided the songs aren’t up to much but might improve if played at a painful decibel level… Of the performers, I’m sure they’re doing their best. Just a week after another dance musical, Movin’ Out, showed what can be done, Footloose brings us back to earth with a bump. Go see Movin’ Out and, if it’s really Footloose you want, rent the video. It’s cheaper and you get Kevin Bacon too.”

  • Brian Logan in the Guardian – “When that other 1980s throwback Dirty Dancing last week became the fastest-selling West End ticket ever, Footloose was saddled with the second fiddle before it even began. But when you deploy the fiddle as amusingly as this - and I'm talking camp Stetson-and-spurs hoedown featuring Cowboy Bob and the Country Kickers - then who cares if it's second, third or 23rd fiddle?… In Karen Bruce's production, the dialogue could be communicated by semaphore. And the resolution is pure schmaltz. But what schmaltz! Footloose's belief in letting go of sorrow and facing the future is uplifting, especially when related by likable young hoofers flinging one another around a stage. If I'd had a Stetson, I'd have hurled it in the air.”

  • Fiona Mountford in the Evening Standard – “At least the film, with its tight denim and bad hair, was cohesively convincing of its time. If Karen Bruce’s production is of anything at all, it’s of the latest window display in Topshop. Without this crucial anchoring sense of period, the creaky machinery of the dance-ban plot simply grinds to a halt.”

    - by Roger Foss