Any of you out there reading this review that are old enough to remember the original 1984 film of “Footloose” will probably have the title song by Kenny Loggins still playing away in their head – it was just one of those songs that annoyingly refuses to go away. If not this song then, “Holding Out For a Hero” sung by Bonnie Tyler will be there in your head somewhere too, so two 1980s anthems here to start with, and that is a bit where “Footloose” the musical maybe starts to lose its footing a bit.
I had actually forgotten that the film was re-made in 2011, so that probably explains why the audience age ranged from seven to seventy tonight but despite the remake, this show (like the film) is still very much rooted in its mid 1980s origins and the music will never let it escape that fact.
Our “hero” Ren McCormack is played this time by Luke Baker and he does a good job of not only the vocals but the acting of a teenager forced to move with his mother from their lively Chicago home roots to stay with his uncle in the small town of Bomont, due to having no money to stay in Chicago after his father has left them both.
Bomont however is no place for a rebel and after a fateful car crash killing four teenagers some years earlier pretty much all forms of fun – particularly dancing - have been banned by the local town council and the local preacher – Rev Shaw Moore. Ren’s simple mission, to bring dancing and fun back into Bomont.
“Footloose” the musical has one big problem from the beginning and that is that it revolves so much around its title song, and a bit like the sinking of the Titanic, everyone knows what is going to happen in the end – they will get their dance. It is just the journey there that takes the time.
This is a bit of an odd show to me, and is really two shows in one. On the one level we have Luke and his High School friends, and there are some highs and lows in this part. Ren quickly catches the attention of the preacher’s daughter Ariel (Hannah Price) who out of her father’s watchful eyes is leading anything but the life of a “preacher’s daughter” and this develops into our main romance. Hannah is a good Ariel and does a great version of “Holding Out For a Hero”, but the problem for both Luke (Ren) and Hannah (Ariel) is that their characters have so little depth to them that they are like cardboard cut-outs at times. There is a real story here of not only romance, but personal loss and we never really explore that and they never get the chance to portray that. We also get nothing much of the relationship between Ren and his mother Ethel (Nicky Swift) after they move to Bomont - in fact, she pretty much drops out of the story.
The other level of this show is to me, the far more interesting relationship between Rev Shaw Moore (Nigel Lister) and his wife Vi (Maureen Nolan). This is a far better written relationship that gives both Nigel and Maureen some real parts to get into and some good songs to perform. Vi’s character does, for me, let Maureen Nolan steal this show a bit.
Also a bit puzzling for me was the casting of Gareth Gates as a rather slow-witted high school friend of Ren. As Willard, Gareth Gates did get one novelty song to sing, but the character really was not the right one for him. Any of us old enough to remember Gareth from his “Pop Idol” days know that there is a really good voice there, and it just was not used in this show. Gareth is now old enough to have got away with playing the part of Rev Shaw Moore and some of his songs would have been far more suited to Gareth’s voice.
As I said, this to me is a bit like a show within a show and I suspect which part of the show you prefer will depend on what age you are.
“Footloose” the song is all about energy, and the first half of the show moved along pretty slowly as the setting for the inevitable dance was set, and really had none of that energy. This energy was only really recovered in the last scene at the dance, and that is a shame as this show should be full of that energy that only youth can ever have.
To be fair the young cast of this show did their energetic best to not only dance, but also play all the instruments on stage, and there are too few shows around that let people of this age play people of their age in a big stage show. There is a lot of talent on stage but they are never really given the chance to play people with depth that an audience cares about.
A show with so many questions to me. I am not sure, despite the 2011 remake, that apart from the obvious title song that the very much of its 1980s time American High School setting and music have much relevance to the younger audience members, and it doesn’t really fit the nostalgia profile for anyone wanting to re-live the 1984 music/film again.
Review by Tom King