‘Footloose’ at Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre by Amanda Gunther

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Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre presents its main-stage summertime musical: Footloose. Based on the classic Kevin Bacon movie, this story takes us back to the 80s when dance was hot and everybody just wanted to be on the dance floor, especially the teenagers. Follow the story of Ren McCormack as he’s transplanted from busy Chicago to the hicktown of Bomont where dancing, thanks to the efforts of the local reverend, has been outlawed. Not fitting in, falling in love and leading the town’s youth against Reverend Moore and the adults to be allowed to hold a dance are all on the agenda in this upbeat musical.

The cast of 'Footloose.' Photo by Justin M. Kiska.

Directed by Bill Kiska with musical direction provided by Jordan B. Stocksdale, this show is a hodgepodge of hit and miss moments that leave you a little disappointed at the end. It’s not for a lack of trying on the performers’ part, because they all seem to have the right energy and attitude, but there were several things that kept this show from being as stellar as it could be.

One of the biggest problems was the costumes. Designers Bill Kiska and Jessica Billones don’t give us that 80s feel with what the performers wear. The costumes feel very modern, many of the girls tops being the everyday fashion with hints at what might have once been 80’s culture. If they were attempting to take the subtle approach and not go for the more stereotypical 80’s look, it was pulled back too far and left the setting feeling vague and unclear.

But this was counterbalanced beautifully by Set Designer Jordan B. Stocksdale. The elaborate and well-detailed sets were each done in a distinctive day-glow color to help reflect the end of the psychedelic era as the 1980s marched onward. The church was highlighted in bright buttercup yellow, with matching pews and cross; the kitchen home of Reverend Shaw was accented in lime green, including the molding and telephone and the Burger Blast hot spot diner was painted up in Barbie Pink. Stocksdale created brilliant moments of the bad fashion sense of the 80s in his design, making up for the ambiguity in the costumes.

Choreographer Amanda Patten created some very era appropriate moves for big ensemble numbers, especially during “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” and the title number “Footloose.” However, the ensemble had trouble dancing in step, and many of these big numbers became unsynchronized. There is a really great dance number done with the four main girls during “Holding Out For A Hero” where they have perfect in-step simplistic movements that really capture the audience’s attention.

Vi (Alexandra Garcia Guyker), and Shaw (Jordan B. Stocksdale). Photo by Justin Kiska.
Vi (Alexandra Garcia Guyker), and Shaw (Jordan B. Stocksdale). Photo by Justin M. Kiska.

The major issues that really hurt this production was the vocal intonation and volume levels. During many of the major musical numbers whenever four or more voices were singing there were noticeable off-pitch sounds that resonated out to the audience. Chuck Cranston (Matthew Crawford) seemed to have the most trouble with this during his solo “Girl Gets Around.” And unfortunately so did the lead Ren (Patrick J. Prebula) when attempting his duet with Ariel in “Almost Paradise.”

The vocalists that did have great pitch and beautiful sounds, like Rusty (Kedren Spencer) was often drowned out by her backup singers, like in the number “Let’s Hear It For The Boy.” And occasionally Ariel (Leah Bebee) who had the most powerful voice in the show, was also drowned out by the ensemble. The choice not to use microphones for the production, despite the intimate space of the theatre, detracted from the overall show.

There were some stellar characters, however, in this performance. Both Vi (Alexandra Garcia Guyker) and Ethel (Jessical Billones) as mothers made quite the impression on the audience. Their duet “Learning To Be Silent” was sung with sweet perfection and deep seeded emotion that was easily carried in their voices. Guyker also performed a sensational solo during “Can You Find It In Your Heart.” Her voice was melodious and clear, making this quiet mother heard above all others.

Reverend Shaw Moore (Jordan B. Stocksdale) was the rock of this performance. His voice was deep and clear when he sang, annunciating every word without making it sound over-articulated. Stocksdale’s character is very reserved but he makes palpable the dark angers, deep confusions, and desperate concerns that bubble just beneath his holy exterior. Stocksdale delivers perfect sounds during his solo “Heaven Help Me,” where he also displays an excellent sense of rhythm and pacing, singing perfectly on tempo with the recording. His solo “I Confess” is deeply moving, fraught with emotional outbursts and is the crowning glory of his performance in this show.

Ariel (Leah Bebee) is a feisty fiery girl who lets her defiance show from the way she walks to the sassy way she sings. Her leading solo “Holding Out For a Hero” is an inferno of passion and wickedly delicious power. Bebee can be heard above the rest for almost every song she sings and like Stocksdale delivers perfect pitch when she sings. Her energy is high, her smile is huge, and her moments of deep emotional confession are stunning. Bebee is the star of the show by far.

And watch for Willard (Jason Harding Beall)  A true diamond in the rough Beall takes to the slow southern drawl of this character with ease. He has the stupid-cowboy routine refined to a precise execution making his character amusing and entertaining. And when he sings “Mama Says (You Can’t Go Back Down)” you just want to jump up and start dancing with him. Beall is an engaging actor who makes his role fun for all who are watching.

Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes with one intermission.

Rusty (Kedren Spencer) and Ariel (Leah Bebee). Photo by Justin M. Kiska.

Footloose plays through August 25, 2012 at Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre located in the Willowtree Plaza – 5 Willowdale Drive, in Frederick, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 662-6600. Online ticket sales not available.

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