Footloose the Musical

It’s hard to attend a performance of Footloose without bringing pre-conceived notions with you. The film (and in particular Kevin Bacon) have crept into the cultural zeitgeist to such an extent that even if you haven’t seen the 1984 film you can at least hum the chorus to Kenny Loggins’ hit of the same name. Richmond Theatre’s production tries it’s absolute hardest to live up to these expectations and deliver the toe-tapping, shoulder-wiggling, screw-it-all-lets-get-up-and-dance-in-the-aisles performance people have come for but, regrettably, it doesn’t quite manage it.

Overall this is a big hearted production that is still finding its feet.

Right from the start a general sense of unease dogged the performance. Perhaps it was nerves, but the opening song was shaky and the cast seemed unsure of themselves. What should have been a big, showy number to set the tone for the rest of the production unfortunately never quite hit. Thankfully the cast relaxed a little as the first half progressed and eased the audience along with them, but a bad first impression is hard to recover from.

Not that there was much time to dwell on this as the show’s first half storms along at breakneck speed. A song seemed to occur every two minutes and some inventive staging meant that if a cast member wasn’t singing, they were playing an instrument somewhere upstage. Everyone in the production seemed to be able to play at least three instruments; from the flute, to the clarinet, to the guitar to the saxophone. It was certainly impressive, if a little hectic when paired with scene-changes, hardcore ‘80s dancing, rollerblading, Gareth Gates’ clothes being ripped off and some extremely aggressive skipping. I felt exhausted just watching them and seeing the effort they were putting in went along way to forgiving some of the production’s flaws.

Not that it was all bad. Both Ariel (Hannah Price) and Rusty (Laura Sillett) have strong voices and there are some nice additional songs as well as the more well-known hits from the film. In particular Learning To Be Silent provided a poignant moment of stillness amidst such a non-stop, high energy performance. Joshua Dower as leading man Ren is a convincingly wholesome cheeky-chappy while Hannah Price’s Ariel wears the curly SJP hair and iconic red cowboy boots from the 1984 film like a trouper. The headlining names of the production are Gareth Gates as Willard and Maureen Nolan as Vi. While both give engaged performances, I felt Gates was a little over the top (throughout he does these odd, distracting hand gestures) and never fully believed his character. 

After a whistle-stop first half, the production drags a little during the second act. Everyone knew how it ended and just wanted to hear Footloose already! The finale (once it finally arrived) did not disappoint, one way to ensure you get a standing ovation is to whack on that tune!

Overall this is a big hearted production that is still finding its feet. The cast knew it and the audience knew it. I left the theatre feeling vaguely shell-shocked but in a pleasant way, appreciative of the cast’s dedication but not entirely convinced. And a show like Footloose, when done right, is not the kind of production you have mixed feelings about. An extra two weeks of rehearsal would have done this production a world of good.

Reviews by Jules Sanderson

Richmond Theatre

Footloose the Musical

★★★
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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Following an acclaimed 2016 UK Tour, worldwide smash hit musical Footloose: The Musical will burst back onto the stage in 2017, playing at Richmond Theatre from Mon 15 to Sat 20 May.

Based on the 1984 screen sensation starring Kevin Bacon, Footloose: The Musical tells the story of city boy Ren, who has to move to a rural backwater in America where dancing is banned. All hell breaks out as Ren breaks loose and soon has the whole town up on its feet. Featuring classic 80s hits including Holding Out for a Hero, Almost Paradise, Let's Hear it for the Boy and the unforgettable title track, Footloose: The Musical is set to take the world by storm once again in this brand new production, bursting with youthful spirit, dazzling dance and electrifying music.

When the film was released in 1984, it became the highest-grossing February release in US film history. The soundtrack album ended the year-long reign of Michael Jackson’s Thriller at number one and went on top album charts all over the world, eventually selling in excess of 17 million copies. Footloose was nominated for a Golden Globe, and both the title song and Let’s Hear It for the Boy received Academy Award nominations. Footloose: The Musical first opened on Broadway in 1998 where it ran for 709 performances, with a London production following in 2006, opening at the Novello Theatre following a UK Tour.

The cast features Gareth Gates as Willard and Maureen Nolan as Vi Moore.

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