Footloose The Musical – Review – York Grand Opera House
By Roger Crow, May 2017
I was there the first week Footloose was released. I’d bought Kenny Loggins’ infectious single and buoyed by the hype, popped along to my local cinema to see what all the fuss was about. I emerged a couple of hours later underwhelmed by Dean Pitchford’s screenplay. The songs and title promised a feelgood, foot-tapping singalong experience rather than a plodding, overlong tale of Ren, a dance-loving city boy who clashes with the authorities in the small US town of Bomont; they banned dancing because of a tragedy in their past. It was a good kernel of a story eventually heated for a popcorn movie.
It’s based on the real case of Elmore City, Oklahoma which banned dancing for 90 years, and Rex Kennedy, the brave junior class president who asked for the rule to be overturned for the sake of an end-of-year prom. His opponent, Reverend FR Johnson, probably had no idea the case would inspire two movies, and like that original 1984 offering, there’s three great songs vying for stage supremacy in Pitchford and Walter Bobbie’s stage adaptation, this time against one remarkable six-pack.
Alas, once Ren’s wing man Willard reveals the results of countless sit-ups and rep curls, the musical goes out of the window and it turns into a hen night with a Magic Mike-style tribute act stealing centre stage. For those holding out for a hero, the wait is over. As is the need for any memorable dialogue in the minutes that follow as a few hundred swooning viewers recover from what they’ve just seen. Forget ‘Footloose’. Collarloose more like, as said character may as well tour the theatre having fivers slipped into the brim of his cowboy hat.
Imagine if Kirk from Corrie went through The Fly’s telepod with Dwayne Johnson and this character would be the result. Willard is not just a generic beefcake idiot, but he makes Chris Penn’s original nice-but-dim movie character look like Einstein by comparison.
The core of Footloose should be the love story between Ren and rebellious Reverend’s daughter Ariel. They may as well be co-stars as the production turns into ‘The Willard Show’. I feel for other overworked performers, many doing four jobs: singing; dancing; acting and playing musical instruments. I half expect to see them pulling pints during the interval as well.
“Brilliantly executed by Gareth Gates”
The problem is Footloose was never a great film to begin with, but it did have a good idea spun out into an overlong drama lifted by the title track, ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ and ‘Let’s Hear It For the Boy’. The rest is filler. I was reminded of the fact after watching the whole thing again recently and listening to the soundtrack. ‘I’m Free’/’Heaven Help Me’ does a good job of closing act one, but the electricity I felt after far better productions Wicked and Bat Out of Hell is sadly absent.
The script feels like an episode of Neighbours performed by Glee’s understudy cast. The song ‘Mama Says (You Can’t Back Down)’ lifts the show a few notches. It’s brilliantly executed by Gareth Gates, and the choreography with tyres is a nice touch, but Rev Shaw Moore’s songs are woeful.
John Lithgow could sell any script, no matter how poor, so his fire and brimstone Reverend is an impossible act to follow. Joshua Dowen does a good job as Ren, (Kevin Bacon’s role), and as the film featured some awful choreography, he’s far better in places, especially without the aid of quick edits or a double.
Maureen Nolan adds glamour as long suffering Reverend’s spouse Vi Moore and Principal Clark, and Hannah Price is terrific as Ariel, while also playing keys and clarinet. My wife, who’s been desperate to see the show for years, feels as let down as me. We’re obviously in a minority as the majority of the other attendees howled at the bad gags like Peter Kay or Morecambe and Wise were dispensing their best zingers.
“We reflect on what could have been”
After a series of seemingly endless finales, rehashing the three best songs (and stretching out delivery of the eponymous tune), the entire theatre erupts in thunderous applause and a standing ovation. Team Crow feels like we’ve watched a different show to the rest of the auditorium. We leave the hen night, sorry, stage show, and reflect on what could have been.
With stronger songs (instead of a slavish devotion to the poor soundtrack), some cast changes and a better script, not to mention decent gags, Footloose could have done what Groundhog Day: The Musical did and surpass the (outstanding) source material.
It certainly brightens a dull Tuesday night, but despite a lot of effort from the cast, crew, and brilliantly-named director Racky Plews, Footloose stumbles.
images: Matt Martin