Footloose the Musical Review
The Bristol Hippodrome
Monday 1st – Saturday 6th August 2016
Based on the 1984 film sensation starring Kevin Bacon, Footloose The Musical, rocks onto the stage of The Bristol Hippodrome this week. Yes, it’s a brand new production but the music is pure 80s. If, like me, you’re old enough to have owned a pair of hair crimpers (and weren’t afraid to use them), there’ll surely be a special place in your heart for the show’s classic hits, including Holding Out for a Hero, Almost Paradise, Let’s Hear it for the Boy and the bouncy title track, Footloose.
When the film was released in 1984, it was a pretty big deal, earning the interesting accolade of becoming the highest-grossing February release in US film history! Perhaps even more significantly, the soundtrack album ended the seemingly never-ending year-long reign of Michael Jackson’s Thriller at number one and went on to top album charts all over the world.
FOOTLOOSE STORY SYNOPSIS
Picture this for a plot idea: In a small conservative American town, where public dancing has been banned for almost 90 years, a student comes up with the outrageous proposal of holding an end of year prom. The request is quickly shot down by a local Reverend, but following a campaign mounted by the kids, permission is eventually granted by the school board. Of course a story that far-fetched has to be true doesn’t it? Had inhabitants of Elmore City, Oklahoma been really determined to go to a dance, they’d have had to visit another town, so with a nine decade ban, I suppose a lot of people would never have experienced dancing at all!
Footloose The Musical is based on that true story. City boy Ren has to move from bustling Chicago to a rural backwater in America where dancing is banned. All hell breaks out as Ren gets the whole town up on its feet.
FOOTLOOSE THE MUSICAL – REVIEW
When the first song of the show, “Footloose”, strikes up, I watch the energy these young performers display before me and I watch my twelve and seven year olds mouthing along to the words to my side. I watch my children instantly connect with the show. We’re sitting in row C, quite near the stage, so we really soak up the atmosphere.
All musical instruments are on stage, many held by actors who are simultaneously playing, dancing and sometimes also singing. It looks exhausting – rather them than me! Other instruments blend into the scenery, like the piano in church, which is just where you’d expect it to be.
As Ren moves from vibrant Chicago to sleepy bible-belt Bomont, West Virginia, I feel for him – definitely not what the doctor ordered for a lively teenager. The local kids don’t seem to be backwards in coming forward though. Once they’ve left church for the day, the girls reveal hot pants and shorts which are as brief as their back-combed hair is big. Ariel’s squeeze, Chuck, complete with bovver boots, cut off denims and full sleeve tattoo, seems to be the kind of lad a newcomer shouldn’t mess with, but Ren just can’t help himself!
Props are a bit of fun like the detached steering wheel and wheeled tables representing cars.
The set makes use of vertical space, giving plenty of scope for climbing up and dancing on tables, stairs and the top of the warehouse which overlooks the railway track. I’m not sure what the drummer’s been up to but the conductor and drum kit seem to be enclosed in a cage above the garage!
One of the highlights of act one has to be “Holding out for a Hero”, during which simple country boy Willard (Gareth Gates) whips off his dungarees to reveal skimpy gold trimmed shorts and a finely honed six pack. And the scene just wouldn’t be the same without the giant fan animating performers’ already dominant hair from the front of the stage, plus smoke effects and some amazing singing.
The kids start to discover their dancing feet in act two as they sneak out to join a barn dance in a neighbouring town. Cowboy boots and straw hats are the order of the day and these poor newbies have to learn to dance while playing instruments at the same time – bless ’em!
Rusty (Joanna Sawyer) demonstrates an impressively powerful voice while dancing in “Let’s hear it for the Boy” and Gareth’s comedic rendition of “Mama Says” is a bit special too. Ariel (Hannah Price) and Ren’s (Luke Baker) “Almost Paradise” is beautifully sung.
I feel a momentary shiver when Vi Moore points out to her husband that she’s still grieving
“HE WAS MY SON TOO!”
There’s also a bit of an emotional scene between Reverend Shaw Moore who’s lost his son and Ren, who’s been abandoned by his father.
The happy ending is followed by an encore which is an absolute joy. Here’s the little Snapchat video review I made during the press evening, which features a brief interview with Lauren Storer, fresh off the stage from playing Vi Moore that night:-
FOOTLOOSE AGE SUITABILITY
The majority of the show is child-friendly but there is some bad language and sexual allusions dotted through it.
The most inappropriate and cringeworthy part of the show for me, as a Mother, is shortly after we’re introduced to Willard. He explains what people get up to in this sleepy town by slipping his hand inside his dungarees and graphically masturbating to the point of no return. This is a show about teens, so I suppose I should expect sexual themes, but crass humour like that just wouldn’t be my bag, even without the boys in tow!
During the interval, the twelve year old does point out that it’s quite rude, but despite this, both he and the seven year old thoroughly enjoy the show.
Footloose: The Musical manages to brighten up a miserable wet summers evening for us. We all enjoy the familiar songs, singing and instrumental performances as well as the youthful energy of the dancers. We have no choice but to be up on our feet during the lengthy finale as, not surprisingly, the standing ovation kicks in all around us as soon as it begins.
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CAST AND CREDITS
Gareth Gates rose to fame through the inaugural series of Pop Idol in 2001, going on to sell over 5 million records worldwide and have hits across the globe. His version of Unchained Melody sold over a million copies in the UK and is the 3rd best-selling single of the Noughties. Gareth is also the youngest ever-male solo artist to debut at number 1. More recently Gareth has enjoyed a successful career on stage, with credits including Les Misérables, Legally Blondeand Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. In 2014 Gareth appeared in the final series of Dancing on Ice, and joined boyband 5th Story as part of ITV’s second series of The Big Reunion, touring arenas with bands including Blue and Five.
Maureen Nolan has been singing with her sisters since she was nine years old, when they became one of Europe’s first girl bands, The Nolans. Best known for their smash hit single I’m in the Mood for Dancing, The Nolans enjoyed phenomenal record sales worldwide, and worked with some of the world’s most respected artists including Frank Sinatra. On stage, Maureen has played Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers in the West End and on tour to critical acclaim. She was the fourth Nolan sister to play the role, earning them entry into the Guinness Book of World Records. Other credits include Sadie in Girl’s Behind, Jill in Mum’s the Word and Sarah in The Naked Truth.
Luke Baker will play Ren McCormack, the role immortalised on screen by Kevin Bacon. Luke has been playing Theo in Green Day’s American Idiot in the West End, with other West End credits including the Olivier Award-winning Sunny Afternoon, Beautiful Thing and I Can’t Sing.
The cast also features Hannah Price as Ariel Moore, Nigel Lister as Reverend Shaw Moore, Nicky Swift as Ethel McCormack, Joanna Sawyer as Rusty, Matthew Tomlinson as Chuck, Natasha Brown as Wendy-Jo, Miracle Chance as Urleen and Scott Haining as Bickie. The cast also includes Lauren Storer, Natalie Morton-Graham, Luke Thornton and Alex Marshall.
Footloose: The Musical has music by Tom Snow and lyrics by Dean Pitchford, and is adapted for the stage by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie. It is based on the original screenplay by Dean Pitchford. It is directed by Racky Plews (American Idiot, West End) with choreography by Matthew Cole, design by Sara Perks and musical supervision by Mark Crossland. It is produced by David Hutchinson and Phillip Rowntree for Sell A Door Theatre Company and Tristan Baker and Charlie Parsons for Runaway Entertainment. It is presented by arrangement with R&H Theatricals Europe.
DISCLOSURE: WE RECEIVED TICKETS FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS REVIEW.
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