Ariel and Ren

Hannah Price (Ariel) and Luke Baker (Ren). Pictures: Matt Martin

Footloose, the Musical

New Alexandra Theatre 

*****

THE STORY of Footloose seemed implausible when first tabled as a film idea back in 1980 but to successful songwriter Den Pitchford the idea had merit.

When the film was finally made four years later it grossed 80 million dollars and a trail of awards and in 1998 the stage musical was created and introduced the story of No Public Dancing in the Bible belt to a new audience.

It would seem a simple formula to load a stage production with a well-known lead and a wealth of talent, send it out and hope for the best.

However, harnessing that energy into a quality performance takes skill, quality direction and a technical staff that makes sure that talent is heard and seen. That just about sums up this fantastic stage version of Footloose.

Let’s start with the music. It’s a musical with a blend of well-known pop tunes and well written musical theatre numbers with great singing, delicate harmonies and driving hard dance tunes.

Sound designer Chris Whybrow excels in technically delivering the perfect balance of music and voice through every number and dramatic sequence. His experience with major bands such as Coldplay and The Kaiser Chiefs shines through and from the first opening of thundering drums of the Footloose theme you could tell sonically it was going to be good.  

Next the cast. Talent exudes from every member as they all excelled at their characters while performing every part of the music and often dancing at the same or delivering lines of drama whilst playing.  Most were multi-instrumentalist and the rota of who was playing what and when seemed mind bogglinMaureen Nolan as Vig and yet was flawless. 

Then the direction by Racky Plews. One can imagine that this musical, staged first 18 years ago, comes with a full book of existing directions and past notes, but bringing this team to up to speed with such fluency would have still been a challenge. Everything flows and dramatically the segues between the songs were heartfelt and made real.

Luke Baker was Ren McCormack, the city boy who overturns the small town policy of no dancing and was superb in the leading role. Aerial Moore played by Hannah price did well to match him in both her drama and singing. The talented trio of Johanna Sawyer as Rusty, Natasha Brown as Wendy Jo and Natalie Morton-Graham as Eleanor played a variety of instruments, acted, or delivered some great individual singing and harmonies throughout the show.

Maureen Nolan as Vi

Due to ill health Gareth Gates was a no show but his shoes were admirably filled by Luke Thornton in the role of Willard, also doubling up on lead guitar. Scott Haining was Bickle and again sang and danced, playing mainly bass, but cello as well.

The solid adult maturity came in the form of Nigel Lister as Rev Moore and Maureen Nolan as his wife Vi. Both added some real drama and pathos to the rock and roll backdrop. Finally, musical director and drummer David Keech who was encased behind a drum booth high above the stage, deserves a mention as he coolly directed the musical numbers via a video link to the performers.  

In all, you don’t need to be a fan or know the back story of Footloose. The show contains some very well-known songs like Let’s hear It for the Boy and I need a Hero and the drama is well played and never secondary to the music. It’s quality entertainment and the only area where anything loose can be found is in the title as the performance is as tight as it can be. To 09-07-16

Jeff Grant

04-07-16

And dancing in the aisles . . .

****

FANS of Gareth Gates were naturally disappointed to discover the star was missing from this lively musical and some requested refunds on opening night, but if they went home they missed a treat.

The Pop Idol winner had been advised by his doctor to take a week off from performances to recover from a vocal injury, but actor/musician Luke Thornton stepped up to give a fine performance as Willard, the young man who, in the company of girls, can’t do ‘it’. We eventually learn what ‘it’ is.

His was not the main role in the story, but Thornton had plenty of opportunities to shine and excels in the second act with one of the big numbers, Mama Says.

The musical is set in small town Bomont, West Virginia, where dancing is banned following a fatal crash in which four youngsters, including the son of strict local preacher, the Rev Shaw Moore (Nigel Lister), were killed on the way home from a social, so dancing is banned.

In view of that, it was surprising to see many of the young cast actually playing various musical instruments on stage during the action, but the decision by director Racky Plews is a winner and adds to the overall impact.

Luke Baker impresses as Ren McCormack who arrives in the town with his mum from Chicago and sets about campaigning to bring back dancing . . . while falling for the preacher’s pretty daughter Ariel.

Hannah Price sparkles as Ariel, singing well and even managing stints on the keyboard, trumpet and clarinet, while Maureen Nolan brings her excellent voice to the role of the preacher’s wife, Vi.

There are many other strong performances throughout a young, energetic cast, belting out Holding Out for a Hero, Let’s Hear it for the Boy and, of course, Footloose.

To 09-07-16

Paul Marston

04-07-16 

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