Review: ‘Footloose’ at McLean Community Players

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No self-respecting 80’s playlist would be complete without Footloose, and for good reason – the single was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Original Song as well as won the Grammy for Song of the Year in 1985. The musical version hit Broadway in 1998 and received nominations for four Tony Awards, closing after just over 700 performances. The 1998 musical, based on the 1984 film, has music by Tom Snow (and others), lyrics by Dean Pitchford (with additional lyrics by Kenny Loggins), and a book by Pitchford and Walter Bobbie.

The Ensemble. Irish Eyes Photography by Toby.

The Ensemble. Photo by Irish Eyes Photography by Toby.

McLean Community Players take on the pop-rock jukebox musical, directed by Shaun Moe, mostly successfully toes the line between ridiculous and hilarious, with some dazzling moments along the way. The strongest moments of the show are spearheaded with skilled harmonies, leaving the audience anxious to get to the next big number.

Footloose tells the story of Ren McCormack, who has just moved to the tiny town of Bomont, where he finds he just can’t adjust to their pace of life. His sarcasm and inability to stand still has the town’s eyes watching him – especially as he begins to fall for the pastor’s rebellious daughter, Ariel Moore. When he champions the fight against a town law that prohibits dancing, he will face off against Reverend Moore in his fight for freedom.

Morgan DeHart tackles Ren McCormack, Kevin Bacon’s iconic role. He plays up the awkwardness of being a Chicago transplant adjusting to life in a podunk town, fighting against preconceived notions and the unfair law against dancing. Ren’s ribbing of sidekick Willard (played by Jon Simmons) had the audience chuckling, their characters playing off each other effortlessly. Ren’s confrontation of Reverend Shaw Moore (Jay Tilley) proved to be DeHart’s most powerful moment on stage, a satisfyingly emotional outburst that crackled with chemistry.

Ren McCormack (Morgan DeHart) meets Willard Hewitt (Jon Simmons). Photo by Irish Eyes Photography.

Ren McCormack (Morgan DeHart) meets Willard Hewitt (Jon Simmons). Photo by Irish Eyes Photography by Toby.

Unfortunately, DeHart’s chemistry didn’t quite extend to his scenes with Nikkie Culbreth, who plays Ren’s love interest and daughter of the pastor, Ariel McCormack. Their interest in each other seemed middling at best, and their romantic ballad atop the train tracks lacked passion. Culbreth’s powerful vocals blend well with her Greek chorus of friends, especially in the crowd-pleasing number “Holding Out For A Hero.” Here, Culbreth begins to shine (literally) and the number harnesses quick costume changes, energetic flailing and muscle power to bring their dream sequence to life.

Despite being a show about dancing, the vocals are where Footloose stands out. Any time there’s trio on stage – listen up. This musical is ripe with three part harmonies, and the various trios nail every single one of them under Lori Roddy’s musical direction. Though the big musical numbers certainly were the most memorable, there were several nice moments and standout performances sprinkled between them.

Ariel Moore (Nikkie Culbreth) and the ensemble. Photo by Irish Eyes Photography by Toby.

Ariel Moore (Nikkie Culbreth) and the ensemble. Photo by Irish Eyes Photography by Toby.

Colleen Robinson who performs as Betty Blast, the rollerskating diner owner, is a cute cameo as someone who finally gives Ren a break. Michael Ferry seems to be having the most fun out of everyone on stage, as Travis, one of bad boy Chuck Cranston’s backup thugs.

Though many of the one liners’ delivery felt like mere caricatures of the residents of a hick town, Tilley captured the charisma and religious fervor of Pastor Moore, showing the both the public and private face of a man of God. Simmons, as Willard, brought a honest simplicity to the role, though unfortunately microphone issues marred his big solo, “Mama Says.” Julie Edwards elegantly handled her performance as Moore’s wife, Vi, and her trio with Ariel and Ren’s mother is one of the most beautiful musical moments in the production.

Footlose ends on the uplifting notes of love, understanding, and acceptance – and of course, everybody cutting footloose.

Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

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Footloose plays through July 24, 2016 at McLean Community Players performing at the McLean Community Center’s Alden Theatre – 1234 Ingleside Avenue, in McLean, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.

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