Review by Amy Butler
Footloose is an undeniably classic musical; defined appropriately by its creator Dean Pitchford as a ‘cultural touchstone’, even those who haven’t seen the adaptations will know the story of the small town in which dancing was made illegal. Based on a bizarre true story, Footloose was first introduced to us through the 1983 film, starring Kevin Bacon as the original Ren McCormack, and since then it has been re-worked for stage numerous times. The 1998 Broadway version picked up several Tony Award nominations, and the original film was even re-made recently in 2011.
It seems therefore that the current UK tour had a large legacy to live up to, yet with Dean Pitchford assisting Walter Bobbie in its production, the cast were certainly in good hands. Rather than simply creating another version of the musical, ‘Sell a Door’ theatre company truly made it their own with an impressive and diverse set, authentic costumes that embraced the 50s theme and an unique use of music onstage. Ensemble was given a new meaning with director Racky Plews’ innovative idea of the cast also doubling up as the band, with each performer showcasing their musical talents and dividing time between acting, singing, dancing and playing up to four instruments each.
Plews’ vision of the addition of music physically live on stage was in order to compliment the storyline itself, demonstrating the necessity and presence of music in every day life and the oppression created by a law against dancing. This vision certainly came to life as musical talent took the forefront, yet this unfortunately slightly inhibited the acting. Nevertheless, the musical’s classics such as ‘Let’s Hear It For The Boy’, ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ and of course ‘Footloose’ were sung impeccably and highlighted impressive choreography clearly inspired by the original 1983 film. Leading lady, Hannah Price, who played Ariel Moore, sung incredibly in the stand-out number ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ and was supported with immaculate harmonies from Natasha Brown, Miracle Chance and Joanna Sawyer.
Yet this number not only demonstrated Price’s vocal abilities, but gave the majority of the audience what they had come to see; Gareth Gates. In ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ the production truly embraced the presence of their star cast member, stripping him down to a pair of small denim shorts, to pose seductively in front of a smoke machine. The theatre was filled with wolf whistles and excited screams at this humorous sequence, but it was not just Gates’ good looks that got him the largest cheer in the finale. The 2001 Pop Idol contestant threw himself completely into his comedic role of Willard, not wavering from it once, even in his solo number ‘Mama Says’. Although at times he seemed to be over-acting slightly, Gates had the most enthusiasm out of all the cast and played such a loveable role it is hard to criticize.
Maureen Nolan was the other big name in the production and she too played a role impossible not to love, however it was Joanna Sawyer who stole the show as Willard’s love interest, Rusty. Sawyer showcased arguably the best vocals in the cast, while providing just as many comedic moments as Gates and the dynamic between the two of them was certainly entertaining to watch. In fact, Sawyer and Gates provided a much more authentic relationship dynamic than the two leads, Luke Baker as Ren McCormack and Hannah Price as Ariel Moore, although Baker’s vocals and moments of real character believability made sure he did the classic role justice.
Finally, special mention should be given to Nicky Swift whose comedy was impeccably timed, and also Scott Haining who although seemed to merge into the background in the first half, made the second his own by demonstrating multiple instrumental talents as well as great vocals, dancing and acting. The entire ensemble cast had exceptional amounts of energy and enthusiasm, especially in the closing number, and most importantly seemed to be enjoying performing as much as the audience enjoyed watching. Although the production provided enough ‘cheese’ to last a lifetime, the many audience members on their feet dancing by the end demonstrates the continuing popularity of the light-hearted Footloose story and its impressive, innovative new adaptation.