'Footloose' at Marriott Theatre
If someone says “Footloose” to you, what likely pops into your mind is an image of Kevin Bacon dancing from the quintessential 1984 film of the same name, as well as Kenny Loggins’ bouncy, snappy music. Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie reworked Pitchford’s original screenplay into the book for the 1998 musical version. Several ‘80s rock and pop icons (Eric Carmen, Sammy Hagar, Jim Steinman, and Loggins) also contributed some new and familiar music and lyrics to the show. The Marriott Lincolnshire production, with tight and energetic direction from Gary Griffin and superb choreography from William Carlos Angulo, lands nearly every step as it establishes itself as a neon-hued immersion into the culture of that era.
Even back in the ’80s, the original story rang a little clichéd: High school senior Ren McCormack (Aiden Wharton) feels angry and hurt by his father’s abandonment of him and his mother Ethel (Heidi Kettenring), and they must move from Chicago to the tiny community of Bomont, Texas (pop. 691). Why the father left and why Ren and Ethel have to leave Chicago and re-establish themselves in a place as strange and far-removed as Bomont is never made clear, but both Ren and Ethel struggle to adapt to their new and restrictive circumstances. As is the case in many small towns, the local church pastor leads not only his parish but the entire population of the town as well. Rev. Shaw Moore (Jim Stanek), rules Bomont with an iron hand and led the movement to ban dancing after a tragic accident following a local dance took the lives of four teenagers (including his own son). His eternally patient wife, Vi, (Johanna McKenzie Miller) does her best to remain strong while obeying her husband’s edicts. Ren’s new classmates, including Rev. Moore’s restless and rebellious daughter Ariel (Lucy Godinez), the dorky but good-hearted Willard (Ben Barker), and the sweet Rusty (Monica Ramirez), all chafe against the no-dancing law. Of course, Ren and Ariel fall for each other, making the sweetest relationship in the show. Ren appeals to Rev. Shaw and the local town council to overturn the ban on dancing – though the impetus to change the law based on the impassioned plea from a new hotheaded resident doesn’t quite add up. Eventually, Rev. Shaw changes his mind, all the kids who haven’t danced for more than five years bust into joyful routines, and all ends well.
Gary Griffin’s direction fits the production well because he has his actors go for the emotional truth in the small moments, filling in the lack of character and story development. Aiden Wharton brings great energy, appeal, and dance moves as Ren (which is certainly a challenge with the shadow of Kevin Bacon’s career-making performance in the mind of every audience member that walks in the door). His “Footloose” explodes in the non-musical moments. He doesn’t show the anger that fuels much of Ren’s frustrations. Heidi Kettenring is lovely as Ethel, as is Johanna McKenzie Miller as Vi; both bring depth and spirit to underwritten roles. Jim Stanek easily displays the strength and charisma that a preacher needs to lead his flock, and performs “Heaven Help Me” beautifully, though he lacks the nastiness of a man of God who will not brook any challenge to his authority. Some of the best moments in the show come from Lucy Godinez in a fabulous performance; her Ariel shines in both the duet “Almost Paradise” with Ren and her powerhouse solo “Holding Out for a Hero.” Media designer Liviu Pasare’s excellent projections take us from a time when Harold Washington was the mayor of Chicago, to the late juice bar and ecstasy den Medusa’s, to the essence of rural Texas. Anna Wooden’s costumes absolutely capture the look and feel of the time with high-top white Reeboks, neon everywhere, baggy pants, Spandex shorts, high ponytails and ultra-crimped hair.
This FOOTLOOSE is a fun and feel-good trip back through time, especially for those who experienced the original wonderful music and questionable sartorial choices. You’ll leave the theatre humming and reminiscing.