Footloose The Musical Review | Opera House | Manchester
Director Racky Plews is bringing morally corrupt 80s pop music to the Opera House theatre audience for a night of fine music, drink and depravity. In a story that grapples with the harm that fear and ignorance can spread, Footloose is a strangely layered salute to youth and community.
Loosely based on the true story of a small farming town in Oklahoma that banned school dances in 1979, the show focuses on Reverend Shaw Moore (Darren Day) whose stirring speeches and intense religious influence leads a small town to extreme measures. Within the tight-knit neighbourhood, Rev. Moore is able to persuade everyone from the teachers to the police with his protective, father figure presence, that music is a sin. Unfortunately for him, he is unable to relate this message to his teenage daughter Ariel (Lucy Munden), a thrill-seeker who actively despises her typecast role as his doting daughter.
In enters Kevin Bacon, or in our case, Joshua Hawkins, doing a respectable American accent. Refreshing the sleepy town with his coiffed hair and unbeatable dance moves, Ren McCormack (Hawkins) moves to the town with his mother from Chicago after his parent’s divorce. As he is new, Ren quickly attracts the attention of Ariel, despite being immediately written off by her father as a troublemaker for reading and appreciating the novel Slaughterhouse-Five. A book that no one in the town has read but can judge from the title is pure evil. Nevertheless, after further ruffling the feathers of his uptight neighbours by being too new, Ren’s not so warm welcome continues at his new school.
Footloose the musical has been morphed into more of a comedy than its original film, with the high school filled with cast members performing 80's aerobic choreography whilst playing musical instruments live on stage. Alongside its dance breaks, our lead also raps, shows off his hybrid basketball-dance moves and dons boxing gloves to wildly swing at the air to music. Plews’ prop heavy direction packs a megamix of tracks and allows for a rapid pace of the remixed story. However, after being dragged by the entire town, Ren never has the chance to completely cut loose as he shares the spotlight with a stellar cast who each have their own solo moments. Several fabulous dance tracks play out with Jake Quickenden (playing Willard Hewitt) cathartically dancing out his troubles to the killer 80s track Holding Out For A Hero and original song Mama Says.
This demanding production has a surprising number of plates it has to spin, fusing new songs, 80s hits including Kenny Loggins Footloose and Let’s Hear It For The Boy, alongside rotating the spirited dancers/actors/musicians on and off the stage as they perform Matt Cole’s choreography. The moves are definitely a step up from the original film and these kids know how to dance. Despite the live production faithlessly moving its story away from the original 1984 film (including the iconic solo dance extravaganza performed in a dusty warehouse), the show offers welcome updates to its 80s dance routines. A flurry of popping and locking and hoedowns are included in this relaxed production, simply designed to reawaken the audience's joy in dance.
The cast, genuinely led by the unknowingly villainous Darren Day deliver the momentum, constantly prancing around the stage, but Footloose’s sympathetic storyline concerning how Reverend Moore’s struggle with grief takes a stranglehold on his community is muffled by the show’s feverish energy. The ensemble also wraps up this expressive 80s-time warp with 80s fashion and a soundtrack that makes this playful production such cheesy fun.
Uplifting the sacred original text, this light and hopeful tale remoulds all of the iconic scenes of Footloose live on stage but continues to offer a friendly and rousing adaption.
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Tickets are available via the ATG link