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Soaring Performances Highlight Born-Again ‘Footloose’

Everyone needs a hero. And with the help of a rebellious newcomer, the youth of a small religious community overcome the local ordinance: No Dancing. The 1999 show “FOOTLOOSE: The Musical” with music by Tom Snow, with a few exceptions, and lyrics by Dean Pitchford is based on the 1984 hit film. One of those exceptions is the rocking Kenny Loggins title number—which opens and closes the show in exuberant fashion—with lyrics by Loggins and Pitchford. The revival that’s now born-again at the Marriott Theatre, directed by Gary Griffin and choreographed with zeal by William Carlos Angulo, showcases soaring performances of “Holding Out for a Hero,” “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” “Almost Paradise,” and “Mama Says.” With music director Ryan T. Nelson and conductor Patti Garwood’s orchestra, you get all the right stuff in all the right places.

Being right–or righteous–drives the story that follows Ethel McCormack (Heidi Kettenring) and her son, Ren (Aidan Wharton) from Chicago to a place called Bomont—Home of the Bomont Cougars—where everyone appears to be mired in the past.

Running things from his lofty pulpit is Reverend Shaw Moore (Jim Stanek). To some, the right Reverend is wrong about his unwavering point of view. It is an opinion shared by his compassionate wife Vi (Johanna McKenzie Miller) particularly when they try to sort out how to relate to their free-spirited teenage daughter, Ariel (Lucy Godinez) to whom the ode “The Girl Gets Around” is dedicated by her lug wrench boyfriend Chuck (Ryan McBride).

With a pall hanging over the Moore family, Ariel surrounds herself with three adorable wingmen–Rusty (Monica Ramirez), Urleen (Kirsten Hodgens) and Wendy Jo (Sara Reinecke)–who are on the lookout for adventure and romance. Enter Ren, the big city kid who wants desperately to fit into his new small town life. Without a strong male influence—his dad walked out on the family back in Chicago—Ren makes mistakes and is labelled a troublemaker, which, of course, makes him immediately attractive to Ariel. It is no surprise when these two get together, but that moment between Godinez and Wharton, and the beautiful staging of “Almost Paradise,” will take your breath away.

Griffin has assembled a top-flight ensemble of newcomers and veterans alike who shine throughout. But there is much more. Chiefly, distinct generations of Chicago talent converge when Miller, Kettenring and Godinez render the beautiful ballad “Learning to Be Silent.” It must also be noted, and delightful to see, that Chicago stage icons Nancy Voigts (mother of Ms. Godinez), Meghan Murphy, James Rank, Wydetta Carter and Shea Coffman are in the tuneful mix.

The message is that we can learn from others and love conquers all, which is the impetus for Ren’s slaphappy pal Willard (Ben Barker) and Rusty (Ramirez) to finally cut loose on their own. The rest of the spirited and uplifting endgame in Marriott’s “FOOTLOOSE: The Musical,” will surely have you humming up the aisle.