Footloose is loosely based on events that took place in the small, rural and fanatically religious farming town of Elmore City, OK in 1978. Dances had been banned by an ordinance from the late 1800s until a group of teens challenged it. In the 1984 movie, as well as in this musical stage adaptation by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie (Artistic Director Kevin P. Hill), the town of Beaumont is hurting over the loss of four youths in a fatal car crash. It took a teen transplant from Chicago, also suffering the pain of loss from his father’s abandonment, to turn the town around and bring back the joy they so vehemently need.
The dancing starts right out the gate– as soon as the curtain rises— but it’s not until the second half that the momentum really picks up. It’s when we learn that one of the teens who’d perished was the son of the local clergyman, Rev. Shaw Moore, that we start to feel the hurt and loss suffered by all. Artfully portrayed by Matthew J. Taylor, the man of religion sets the sullen pace of the town due to his own grieving. His daughter Ariel, skillfully portrayed by Emma Wilcox, seeks attention in sultry ways, and wife Vi (Aimee Doherty) shows she misses him as well. Once Rev. Moore has a heart-to-heart with Ren McCormack, our pioneering and pirouetting lead character portrayed by JP Qualters, he puts his self-centered ego aside and free will is restored; the town once again laughs and dances in joy. Nothing heals the morose heart like a good boot-scootin’ boogie!
Standout performances by certain other veteran actors steal the show, including James Oblak as Chuck Cranston, the perfect bad boy. Melanie Souza provides comic relief as Betty Blast, the witty diner owner with a flair all her own (not to mention her country line dancing, as many actors played dual roles). Kristen Gehling portrays Ethel McCormack, Ren’s mother, in a performance that tugs on our heartstrings. Ren’s Geeky friend, Hewitt Willard, portrayed by Ethan James Lynch, is a total show-stealer, especially with his surprisingly awesome vocals. Equally impressive is the attractive scenic design by Kyle Dixon. Large, easily moved pieces without the use of smaller props make the settings as eye-catching as they are time-saving.
You’ll be tapping your feet to the ol’ familiar Oscar-winning (Best Original Score for Maurice Jarre) and Tony-nominated top 40 score from the early ‘80s. Take a twirl down memory lane as this production celebrates the wisdom of not only listening to our youth, but guiding them with a warm heart and open mind.
Footloose runs through July 16. For more info, visit www.theatrebythesea.com or call the box office at 782-TKTS (8587).