Footloose – the 1984 movie starring Kevin Bacon about a disaffected teen who moves to a small town where dancing is outlawed and aims to change the law – occupies a curious place in the American conscious. Somewhat controversial upon its release due to its portrayal of teenage rebellion, violence, and depression, the movie was admittedly goofy at times, and only received lukewarm enthusiasm from critics. But despite this, the movie is lodged in our collective psyche. Everyone knows Footloose, and it’s hard not to smile when you hear its name mentioned.
The musical adaptation of this film by the City of Fairfax Theatre Company, thankfully, realizes the mix of sarcasm and reverence that a 1980s icon brings, and has created a charming, loving performance that both longtime fans and new viewers will enjoy.
Director and choreographer Erich DiCenzo didn’t make it easy on himself. He works with a cast of nearly thirty, and there are a number of times that the entire ensemble is on the stage at once. That, in itself, isn’t necessarily unusual. What is unusual is how seamlessly the cast is choreographed, and how detailed their interactions are. DiCenzo and set designer Thomas Iodice do an inventive job with the stage space, and not a movement or character is wasted. Children fidget in church, girls wink at boys in restaurants, entire backstories are told in the background, and it lends a realism to the production that brings the fictional small town of Bomont to life.
That said, the enthusiasm of the cast, particularly in the large ensemble numbers, sometimes confuses singing with shouting, and there are times when the music and voices aren’t in perfect agreement. But that’s no fault of conductor and pianist Kirsten Boyd, who deftly, flawlessly guides her five-player band. You’ll leave impressed by their performance in general, and by Boyd’s direction in particular.
And those momentary concerns of volume don’t diminish the singing, which is otherwise solid across the board. Jamie Goodson (Ariel Moore) is a standout, and when she belts out “Holding Out for a Hero,” you can feel excitement buzzing through the audience. And Goodson isn’t the only one. Amy Griffin, in the role of Vi Moore (the wife of repressive reverend Shaw Moore), has heartbreaking reach. “Learning to be Silent,” the song they sing with Ellen Price (who provides a wonderful portrayal of Ethel McCormack), is worth the cost of admission alone.
The show, of course, needs to be carried by its lead, Ren McCormack, played by Peter Moses. Happily, the humor and mischief with which he approaches the role gives the stage version a deeper humor and humanity than the movie ever reached. He’s helped by Alexander Le Floch (Willard), his sidekick who provides endearing comic relief throughout. Which isn’t to say that this production is entirely lighthearted. The adaptation by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie refuses to shy away from the controversy the film courted. Violence and domestic abuse are dealt with somberly and, fortunately, the cast has the skill to slip into different emotions without shortchanging anything of consequence.
The script is lively, the dances fun, and the enthusiasm in the singing and music will grab you. See Footloose. You’ll leave happy, and determined to see more of CFTC’s work in the future.