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Trio of Superb Chicago Productions Highlight Language of Dance

Dance as a Metaphor for Rebirth.     

In “Footloose,” Ren (Aidan Wharton, a recent Penn State graduate who moves like a dream, and is a terrific actor-singer to boot), is a teenage boy from Chicago who happily admits he can’t stand still, and who spends his non-working hours in the city’s dance clubs of the 1980s. Then, quite suddenly, he finds himself in the small, archly conservative Midwestern town of Bomont.

Ren’s dad has abandoned him and his mother, and financial pressures have forced them to leave Chicago and take up residence in the home of an aunt and uncle. Worst of all, Bomont has been living for years under the dictates of its minister, the Reverend Shaw Moore (an aptly unbending Jim Stanek) who was instrumental in seeing that a law forbidding dancing was put into place after four teens were tragically killed in an auto accident.

The ban on dancing is immensely oppressive to Ren, but also to the minister’s brainy, freedom-starved and rebellious daughter, Ariel (the radiant, golden-voiced Lucy Godinez, and a recent Northwestern University grad). Of course, it is not long before the two find the kindred spirit in each other, and against all the odds, things in Bomont begin to change.

This 1998 Broadway musical, adapted from the 1984 movie by its original screenplay writer Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie, features a richly varied score by Tom Snow and lyrics by Pitchford. And it is now receiving an emotionally rich, powerfully sung and superbly danced revival at the Marriott Theatre where it has been directed by Gary Griffin and choreographed by William Carlos Angulo, with expert musical direction by Ryan T. Nelson.

The great beauty of the show, which in many ways is about how dance serves as a medium of freedom, joy, love and sensuality, is the way it continually moves. Not only is there the use of a slowly revolving stage, but more crucially, Angulo’s choreography (and the actors’ overall body language) turns the wonderfully real and individualistic ensemble into something of a Greek chorus suggesting both the pent-up repression in the town, and adolescent hunger for action and sex. Unresolved relationships between a father and son, a father and daughter, and a husband and wife also are of the essence.

There is beautifully heartfelt work by Johanna McKenzie Miller as Vi, the minister’s wife, who has learned to be silent. There is rich comedy in the antics of Ben Barker as Willard, the nerdy guy who becomes Ren’s friend, and in the clarion-voiced Monica Ramirez as Rusty, his vivacious wannabe girlfriend.

The ensemble is full of virtuoso performers (including Heidi Kettenring, Meghan Murphy and Nancy Voigts, Lucy Godinez’s real-life mom). And be sure to keep your eye on UJ Mangune, the show’s dance captain – a self-trained hip-hop dancer whose moves are beyond brilliant.