A HUGE buzz of anticipation exuded from the packed house at Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre last night as they waited for the slightly delayed curtain to go up.
With many of the audience dressed in 80s retro-kitsch to celebrate the arrival in town of the all-new stage musical version of the iconic 80s film ‘Footloose’.
If you were old enough to dance in the 80s (and most of last night’s audience were) then Kevin Bacon and Lori Singer were your ‘movie messiahs’.
Amazingly (and I recall getting this as a Balderdash ‘true or false’ question) Footloose is based on a real-life almost 100 year period in Elmore City, Oklahoma where dancing was banned as a lewd pastime – punishable by jail.
It was overturned in 1980 by a high school student revolt.
In the stage show, Ren McCormack (Joshua Hawkins) along with his mother Ethel (Anna Westlake) arrives from the glitz of Chicago to the tumbleweed town of Bomont.
Having been abandoned by their husband/ dad, they are here to start a new life.
However, the rose tints drop from the spectacles when Ren discovers that in Bomont, dancing is banned.
This is by order of the town council because of a fatal accident some years previously, in which local teenagers had lost their lives.
Calling the shots is head of the council, the Reverend Shaw Moore – an outstanding performance by Darren Day.
Day brings stage-sage to a largely ‘fresh from drama school’ main company.
The Rev has a rebellious and beautiful daughter Ariel – joyously played by Lucy Munden – she displays layers of passion, frustration and fragility which get peeled away as she kindles a relationship with Ren. They bring out the best in each other as they aim to change their little town’s insularity.
Hawkins fairly rocks it up as Ren and aside from his romance with Ariel, makes a great duo with rebel with a cause Willard Hewitt, (Jake Quickenden).
Most of the cast multi-tasked playing a profusion of guitars, brass and woodwind instruments alongside, dancing, singing and story telling.
A special doff of the cap to Oonagh Cox as a stand out Rusty.
After a shaky start due to what I presume was settling in after a late set up (the scenery pantechnicons were only just leaving as the audience were entering) the company gelled and excelled.
The sound from designer Chris Whybrow wasn’t always balanced and mics sometimes annoyingly absent – first night lack of tech time, which I’m sure, won’t happen again.
Overall, this is a slick stage adaptation by writer and lyricist Dean Pitchford of his own screenplay. Director Racky Pews brings it to life in a fast moving montage.
Sara Perks keeps the interest bubbling with a multi-layered set offering interesting spaces for intimate romance and conversation and full on dance spectacles.
The song list is a nice balance of energy and empathy; which outside of the classic title song includes the iconic ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ and ‘Let’s Hear It For The Boy’.
At the walkdown the audience were on their feet and enjoyed a full on 80’s party with the cast.
Footloose is frothy and infectious fun – it sends you home happy with a big grin for everyone around you. In these sad news days, it’s just the ticket.
Review by Euan Rose
Euan Rose Reviews