Everybody Footloose in marvelous MacEwan musical

Footloose MacEwan GigCity EdmontonSorry, all of you who fondly remember the 1984 film Footloose as a quintessential part of your teen years – it really wasn’t much of a movie. No one expected much from it. And who was this kid, Kevin Bacon, anyway?

Anyone who knew about those things was surprised when a whole generation of restless teens took it to heart. It grossed $80 million at the box office and even made noises at both the Oscars and Golden Globes. The soundtrack knocked Michael Jackson’s Thriller off the top of the charts and Kenny Loggins’ earworm theme remains evergreen.

It’s safe to say that not much was expected of Footloose: The Musical either when, in 1998, it hoofed its way onto a Broadway stage. And, indeed, critics were not kind. But what do critics know? They didn’t like the movie, either. In fact, when the band strikes up Loggins’ familiar opening chords in this lively and tuneful new production from the MacEwan Theatre Arts Program, I suspect there will be few in the audience who will not feel a thrill of nostalgia.

Creators Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie avoided the boredom that crushed the stage musical version of that other teen favourite, Dirty Dancing, by goosing up the story, keeping the best songs from the original – Let’s Hear It For The Boy, Almost Paradise, and Bonnie Tyler’s enduring anthem Holding Out For a Hero – and a clutch of serviceable if not memorable new songs from tunesmith Tom Snow. The movie, which was more of an MTV video, just ran in the songs. The stage show uses them to advance character and plot.

The result is a playful, energetic and enjoyable evening that should entertain just about everyone.

For those who spent those years in a cult in Peru, the plot has big city boy Ren (Cameron Chapman) and his mother (Jeannine Naboye) relocating after a marriage failure to the sleepy middle-America small town of Bomont. Here he hooks up with the local nerd (and convenient comic relief) Willard (Malachi Wilkins). The kids of Bomont live under the iron hand of the overbearing Rev. Moore (Benjamin Oomen), who has banned dancing in an attempt to exercise control over the town’s youth – a control he lost when his son, filled with booze and drugs, drove off a bridge and died five years before.

Footloose MacEwan GigCity EdmontonRen attempts to bring his wayward big city moves to the now rebellious local kids, but soon runs into the formidable Reverend in a battle for hearts and minds – and feet. The kids push back in their spirited fight for the freedom to dance as they test the boundaries of parental control.

Of course, love blossoms along with all that gettin’ down and gettin’ dirty as Ren falls for the local sparkplug (and daughter of Rev. Moore) the vivacious Ariel (Danica Kobayashi). The two able actors effectively raise the hormonal level of the whole production. The lanky Wilkins is a real find. Speaking in his best Jeff Foxworthy deep fried drawl, he’s funny, right down to the way he moves. His comic song Mama Says is the high point of the show. Oomen’s preacher is effectively conflicted and when he finally locates his inner Travolta and breaks into an uninhibited dance, the wildly partisan audience cheered mightily.

The show starts at an energetic clip with the title song and some athletic and precise dancing from the 22 member cast (under the direction of choreographer Jacqueline Pooke). Perhaps a bit too precise because for much of the first act, performances and dancing lacked the one thing the show champions – a sense of danger. By the time they got to their knockout delivery of Holding Out For a Hero, late in the first act, it was in the wind and by the second act they nailed it. The reprise of Footloose at the end was a barn burner.

If you are looking for a more profound meaning in the midst of all this rebellion and rock, Footloose “celebrates the wisdom of listening to young people and guiding them with a warm heart and open mind,” as the playbill reads.

And, of course, the curative and liberating powers of rock ‘n’ roll.

Footloose: The Musical plays in the John L. Haar Theatre through February 18.

Thanks for the memories, John L. Haar

I must note with a degree of sadness that Footloose is to be the last Grant MacEwan production to be seen in the John L. Haar Theatre. The entire campus is moving to their stunning new downtown digs. I have been reviewing shows in that theatre since the first productions of the legendary, late Tim Ryan, who founded the theatre program in 1979. Under Ryan and indeed in the number of artistic and freelance directors who followed him, the company’s musical productions have always been superb – slick, professional and entertaining. There was little feeling that these were young people learning their craft and experimenting on their audiences. Indeed most of the shows were as first-class as any local (or touring) company and always filled with the youthful exuberance of “let’s get together and put on a show.”

To all those who have entertained us over the years, “Thanks for the memory.”

Supplied photos