There’s nothing better than seeing a show filled with familiar music that strikes a chord. It’s even better when it is so joyously performed by a large cast in a grand performance space like the Victoria Theatre. Dare to Defy Productions presentation of Footloose is such a show, a surprisingly innocent and family friendly experience playing a limited run of just one weekend in downtown Dayton.
Footloose is based on the 1984 film starring Kevin Bacon about a teenager from a broken home moving from Chicago to the tiny town of Bomont where dancing (and any fun) are illegal; it has been adapted by screenwriter Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie for the stage, opening on Broadway in 1998 where it ran for a year and a half. Footloose is often classified as a movie musical because of the hit soundtrack (like Flashdance), but no characters actually sing in it; the music underscores montages or is source music in scenes. In transplanting the film to the stage, several songs with music by other writers (Jim Steinman, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins, and Eric Carmen) have been retained with additional songs written by Mr. Pitchford and Tom Snow. You’ll still hear all the big songs from the film (including “Footloose”, “Let’s Hear It for the Boy”, “Almost Paradise”, and “Holding Out for a Hero”), but now they are assigned to characters to sing. Amazingly enough, it works quite well, with only a few of the new songs being unnecessary and poor in comparison.
Eric Thompson plays Ren McCormack, the Kevin Bacon role in the movie, and he is a bit of inspired casting. Mr. Thompson sings beautifully but retains the “rough around the edges” quality perfect for the character. So much of the show rides on his shoulders as the boy who “can’t stand still” (one of the better new songs written for the play), and he comes off as likable and quickly present in a way that elevates every scene of which he is a part.
Abby Cress is Ariel Moore, the rebellious preacher’s daughter who sets her sights on Ren. Ms. Cress seems to be miscast until she sings “Holding Out for a Hero”; with her sweetly strong singing voice taking on such a challenging pop anthem with no visible effort, she emerges as probably one of the few actresses in the area that can do the part justice and not just play the wildcat. Ms. Cress and Mr. Thompson have chemistry as well, which enhances the storytelling and helps it come off as less corny.
Other standouts in the cast are David Shough as Reverend Moore, Skyler McNeely as Willard (Ren’s best buddy), and Esther Hyland as Ethel McCormack (Ren’s mother). Mr. Shough plays Ariel’s father and the town leader as more than just an overbearing killjoy; he genuinely believes he is doing what is righteous and best, and Mr. Shough gently brings that out in scenes where he reflects on the passing of his son. Mr. McNeely is spot-on in his comic timing as Willard, always ready with an expression to punctuate a moment and elicit laughter. Ms. Hyland in all likelihood is probably too young to play Ren’s mother, but she makes the most of her underwritten part and reveals her melodious singing voice in “Learning to Be Silent”; she makes an impression in a part that doesn’t give her a lot to do.
Director Craig Smith and choreographer Jessica Tate work well at creating and sustaining so much energy on the stage with quite a large ensemble. The large dance sequences are especially impressive and invigorating, and the cast seems to be having such a good time; their joy is infectious. Though I doubt many of the players were even born in the 1980s, their costumes are humorously accurate to the period, complete with cuffed acid wash jeans, Izod lizards, and popped collars. The cast is credited with the costumes along with Amy Elder Dakin, Olivia Dakin, and Mackensie King, a collaborative effort that surely involved many an excavated closet and trips to thrift stores. Appropriate credit is also due to the people behind the teased hair and glossy makeup as it also helps evoke prime 1984.
Footloose isn’t a great show, but it doesn’t have to be in order to be entertaining. Aside from having a few new songs assigned to characters that should have remained non-singing parts, Footloose is nostalgic in the best possible way. Dare to Defy’s production is solid and a lot of fun; the perfect cherry on the top of this Thanksgiving holiday.
*** out of ****
Footloose continues through to November 28th in the Victoria Theatre at 138 North Main Street in Dayton (a little over an hour outside Columbus), and more information can be found at http://www.d2defy.com/