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Footloose and Fancy Free: Footloose the Musical

16 May 2017

Footloose the Musical

Sell-a-Door at Richmond Theatre until 20th May

Review by Georgia Renwick

Oh, to be footloose and fancy free! Footloose the Musical, which is appearing at Richmond Theatre this week as part of a UK tour, is a slice of life in Southern-State 1980s America.  Bursting with vivacious songs and energetic, aerobic dance moves, whilst also bristling with teenage angst and rebellion.  It tells the story of teenager Ren and his mother, who have moved to the fictional town of Bomont where dancing, liquor and rock and roll have been banned – but they don’t let that stop them! It is a rip-roaring retro blast of 80s nostalgia; denim cut offs, pom-poms, milkshakes, roller skates, baseball caps and good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll all make an appearance, but then some things never go out of style!  And Footloose still has the recipe for a foot-stomping, fun night out.

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The original 1984 movie was loosely based on events that took place in the small, rural town of Elmore, Oklahoma – and if you have seen the 1984 movie (or the 2011 reboot) you may be thinking you’ve seen it all before – but you would be wrong.  This revival takes the 1998 screen-to-stage musical version, which featured new songs as well as the hit title track Footloose and other big 80s hitters including Holding out for a Hero and I’m Free, and gives it a kick for a new generation.  The newly remixed songs (under the direction of David Keech) are played with panache by the incredibly talented multi-instrumentalist actors, including, besides the usual keys and guitars, a flute, clarinet, harmonica, three saxophones with the drummer conducting it all from his drum cage on high.  Having the musicians perform on stage for us brings a freshness and playfulness to the sometimes synthetic musical style.  Lauren Storer silences the town council with her flute, seeing the strict town pastor give a solo on the electric guitar is a special moment, and there’s even a credible rap.

 

The addition of instruments has the ensemble cast gelling in a collaborative water-tight way that is rarely seen, and it’s a joy to watch.  The vocal talents of the girls are given the freedom to really shine, belting in faultless harmony.  They may not have as large a chorus to play with as some of the larger West End musicals, but their pace and energy more than make up for it.  It never sounds too thin.  Designer Sarah Perks has also done a fantastic job of creating a compact set that encompasses the organised chaos of a instrumentalist-actor company, who are able to move about slickly.  The neon lights flash to the pulse of the show, it’s a real party atmosphere!

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Joshua Dowen and Hannah Price lead the cast as Ren (made famous by Kevin Bacon) and Ariel, their chemistry as a pairing is very natural and heats up as the show goes on, as a surprising amount of emotional depth comes into play.  Gareth Gates puts paid to the pop star cliché of playing the romantic lead by taking on the comedy role of Ren’s friend Willard.  With his deep-south accent, straw hat, dungarees and toothpick he was almost unrecognisable from the gawky Pop Idol I remember and he proves in this production he is more than just a famous face with the cheekiness, charm and excellent comic timing he lends to his role.  His cameo in Holding Out for a Hero also showed off some other new … ahem … assets.

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It was a pleasure to see Maureen Nolan as mother to Ariel and school principal, after her many years in both the West End and touring productions of Blood Brothers.  Her throaty vocal is the most passionate of the production, a credit to a show which gives voice not only to the younger generation but also to the feelings of their parents, caught between trying to protect their children and wanting them to be happy.

 

 

Footloose tells a story of young people kicking up against the rules and making themselves heard, which teens of any generation can relate to but at present more than most.  The presence of Trump in the American and indeed world consciousness is unavoidable, and by the young people, largely unwanted.  (Statistical aside: If just the votes of 18-25 year olds had counted, 93% of electoral votes would have been Democrat blue.  Here in the UK at the minute it is a similar story.  If just the votes of our 18-25 year old’s had been counted in the referendum – out of a 63% youth turnout – we would have remained in the EU.)   In Footloose the pastor has to concede that his fears cannot hold back an entire generation from their birthright to dance, 33 years since the script first aired, are the grown-ups still making the same mistakes?

It’s not a question that this production tries to answer, but young and old alike we could all use for a night of footloose and fancy free fun and foot-stomping, and this is just the ticket.

Georgia Renwick

May 2017

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From → musicals, Reviews

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