"Footloose may be a hit, but it's trash - high powered fodder for the teen market.” So said Dave Denby writing in New York magazine about the film but it applies equally to the staged musical, as evidenced by the young cast of this production and the audience which consisted largely of supportive youths applauding with passion.

The young people in this production from Atascadero High School, California, clearly enjoy every minute of the show and audiences will no doubt appreciate the effort they have made.

The story is simple. Teenager Ren McCormack moves with his mother from the bright lights of Chicago to the sleepy town of rural Bomont. Following an accident in which four young people died after a night’s partying, the council was persuaded to ban all dancing and its associated music, a move initiated by Reverend Moore, whose son was one of the deceased. He manages to control the town more successfully than he does his errant daughter, Ariel. Ren, of course, falls for Ariel although she already has a boyfriend, Chuck. Relationship issues between them and various other members of the town form much of the plot until Ren mounts a campaign to overturn the dancing restrictions.

The musical opens with the title song and some fun choreography, a feature that remains throughout the show. Unfortunately some enduring issues in this production also appear. The Church Hill Theatre has a large stage and auditorium. Performing with only a backing track and no live band or microphones, the cast have difficulties generating the vocal power to fill the space. The same problem applies to the scene projections which look lost on the expansive white cyclorama.

From the outset, Wesley van den Eikhof as Ren dominates this production. His towering physical presence, strong vocal performance, energetic dancing and impassioned speech keep the show alive. He teams up well with the other men on stage, especially Creston Cooper playing his buddy Willard. Together they make an entertaining team who have some fine moments, as does Willard with his girlfriend.

The boys generally come out on top in this show, although Robert Evans as the Reverend had his work cut out playing a much older figure with some demanding songs and a large spoken part that required better diction in places. In many cases the trio of girls have tuning issues and lack the power to carry off the big numbers such as Holding Out For A Hero. Emily Bonatti, Rusty, has some strong moments and makes a valiant effort in Let's Hear It For The Boy but needs more breath when combined with the dance routines. The musical as a whole requires voices with greater maturity than these. Some sensitive moments are provided by Brianna Josephs as Ariel and Ari Lagomarsino as Vi Moore.

Footloose is part of the The American High School Theatre Festival, a programme that enables students from schools who make it through the highly competitive selection process to perform their nominated show at the Fringe. Now in their twentieth year at the Fringe, they must be getting something right. The young people in this production from Atascadero High School, California, clearly enjoy every minute of the show and audiences will no doubt appreciate the effort they have made.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

We will have you jumping out of your seat to join in the joy of dance, song and comedy. Atascadero High School Theatre Arts storms the stage with their high-kicking, exuberant celebration of liberated energy. Choreographed by Emmy award-winning Suzy Miller, this acclaimed cast of 12 red-blooded guys and 11 spirited girls rock the familiar 80s hits along with exhilarating new songs. In addition to the contagious musical numbers, Footloose tells the contemporary, yet timeless story of youth and adults on their sometimes difficult journey to listening, understanding and working together. C’mon, everybody cut loose!

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