Adapted by Dean Pitchford from the 1984 teen film of the same name, Footloose is a no-holds-barred musical, featuring hit songs from the original motion picture soundtrack, including “Holding Out for a Hero” and “Let’s Hear It for the Boy”. In this new production from Paul Kerryson, it receives its European premiere, on tour ahead of an anticipated West End transfer.
Streetwise Ren McCormack (played by the athletic Chris Jarvis, who will set many a young heart aflutter) moves from Chicago to the one-horse town of Bomont where church on Sunday is mandatory and fun is a thing of the past. Initially, he’s ostracised as a stranger but, through the townsfolk’s eyes, we watch as his popularity increases and he comes to challenge the preacher to lift the ban on dancing and rock ’n’ roll.
Meanwhile, Ariel, the Bible-bashing preacher’s daughter (the lithe Rachel Wooding, whose tiny frame belies her big voice), wants fun and adventure. She’s attracted to trouble and runs the gauntlet with high school drop-out and drug dealer Chuck (Richard Taylor Woods), who - unsatisfactorily - escapes the comeuppance he so richly deserves.
The comedy turn of the evening comes care of dopey Willard (Taylor James), whose dance tuition involving a broom and beer helps win the heart of the sexy Rusty (Cassidy Janson), who has it all – looks, voice and rhythm. Amongst Footloose’s older generation, Oliver Tobias, trading in his heartthrob status, convinces as the dour preacher, taking out his own pain on his family and congregation, while Marilyn Cutts , as his dowdy wife, attempts to bridge the ever-widening gap between father and daughter.
Played on Kentaur’s versatile set, with gantry used to full effect, the scene shifts seamlessly from inside the church, school, bar and parsonage to the gas station, bridge and city. The music is pacy or whimsical by turns under the able direction of Chris Hatt, who also wrote the additional arrangements and orchestrations, but some of the swing voices could be stronger.
After a slow start, albeit with some striking moments, Footloose gathers momentum in the second half, culminating in a fittingly spectacular song and dance climax.
Okay, so it’s no great drama, but as evenings of mindless entertainment go, you can’t expect much more. I’m sure it will set toes tapping across the country.
– Karen Bussell (reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth)