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REVIEW: Footloose: the Musical

Footloose the Musical at The Everyman

Footloose: the Musical
Adapted by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie
Based on the original screenplay by Dean Pitchford
The Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
Monday, 4 April 2022

Rating: ★★★☆☆

According to Fredrickson and Kahneman’s ‘Peak–End’ rule, we classify our experiences as good, bad or ‘meh’ according to how we felt at the moment of maximum intensity (the peak) and at the end.  So, I remember my wedding as a five-star occasion, based on the intensely emotional peak (our tearful exchange of vows) and celebratory ending (“Start spreading the nyeeeeeeews … I’m leaving todaaaaaaay …”).  This, despite the fact that my phone rang in the middle of the ceremony, a waitress dropped a trayful of fizz, and everyone caught Norovirus.

Similarly, I remember Footloose: the Musical as a solid, three-star experience, based on the show-stopping highlight (an audacious disrobing) and uplifting ending (the audience clapping and bopping to a musical medley).  This, despite the fact that there was a frustrating ten-minute delay before the show started and a technical hiccup after the lights went down; the first half was sometimes stuttering and incoherent; and the relatively small stage had clipped the dancers’ wings.

Footloose: the Musical is based on the 1984 movie of the same name, starring Kevin Bacon.  Remember the 2011 remake, starring Kenny Wormald?  Me neither.  Footloose tells the story of dance-loving teenager Ren (played by the excellent Joshua Hawkins), who’s seldom without his Sony Walkman.  After his dad does a runner, Ren and his mum Ethel (the versatile Geri Allen) move from Chicago to hick town Bomont (so hick they can’t spell “Beaumont”), where dancing is outlawed at the behest of pastor Shaw Moore (beloved entertainer Darren Day).  Bumptious city-slicker Ren quickly makes enemies, is befriended by amiable galoot Willard (Jake Quickenden in typically charismatic form), and falls in lust with Shaw’s daughter Ariel (in her first professional appearance, Lucy Munden).  Ren teaches Willard to dance, and helps him overcome his shyness in flirting with ditzy Rusty (a fizzing performance from Oonagh Cox).

Punctuated by frequent musical interludes, things draw towards the inevitable confrontation between rebellious Ren and the authorities.  Can Ren come to terms with the loss of his father, by overthrowing his shadow-father Shaw?  Can Shaw come to terms with his own loss, by laying down his burden of grief?  Can the women free themselves from patriarchal control and find their own voices?  Will there ever be boogying in Bomont?  The answers won’t surprise you.

But that’s beside the point.  This is a musical, and the things that matter – the singing, dancing, musicianship and songs – are all excellent.  The skilful prop-handling – notably, of multiple basketballs – carries a genuine sense of jeopardy.  The multi-talented cast play their instruments live – in one extraordinary instance, while skipping with a rope.  The soundtrack contains more fillers than killers, but includes a smattering of familiar hits, including the title track (sung by the ensemble), Holding Out for a Hero (sung by Lucy Munden, who’s outrageously upstaged by Jake Quickenden’s defrocking), and Let’s Hear It For the Boy (brilliantly delivered by Oonagh Cox).

We all remember the Kevin Bacon movie as a musical romance, and I’m pretty sure that’s what the hen party in front of me were expecting.  But, in this version, Footloose is more of a bromance.  The really compelling chemistry is between the boys: when Ren and Willard are together, sparks fly.  In contrast, the romantic scenes between Ren and Ariel never quite ignite, even when (spoiler alert!) the young ’uns finally snog.  I do hope the hens weren’t disappointed.

In the absence of any real jeopardy, it’s hard to care about the outcome.  So, the grown-ups won’t let you dance?  Boo hoo!  You’re a teenager!  Do it already!  Or get in daddy’s car, drive beyond the town boundary, then do it!  Sheesh, you guys!  Show a little ingenuity!  What self-respecting teenager ever waited for their parents’ permission?!

Running time: 2½ hours (including interval)
Footloose runs at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, until Saturday 9 April 2022.

© 2022 Paul Sharples
Explore Gloucestershire
5 April 2022

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