and iconic, warm-hearted and rebellious, Dean Pitchford’s
The talent and enthusiasm of the show’s predominantly young cast is infectious.
This theatrical reimagining opens with a vibrant rendition of the beloved titular track. With this flurry of big hair, big shoulder pads and big-hearted performances, we are introduced to protagonist Ren, the role that made Kevin Bacon famous. Our Bacon stand-in is Luke Baker, recently seen in the West End’s American Idiot and perfectly cast as the show’s protagonist. Baker is credible both as an angry and awkward 17 year old and a charismatic, captivatingly cool dancer who leads a whole town toward a musical revolution. Ren’s dancing helps him let off steam and Baker’s skills, not to mention the choreography by Matthew Cole, make the dancing in Footloose its most dynamic storytelling agent.
Music is fundamental to Footloose, so restructuring the story into a musical should be a sure-fire win. Certainly, director Racky Plews’ production cleverly uses its ‘80s soundtrack: every actor is also a skilled musician and the core band remain on-stage at all time, simultaneously camouflaged into the set and celebrated.
The talent and enthusiasm of the show’s predominantly young cast is infectious. Particular standouts are Hannah Price, who plays Ariel, Ren’s love interest and the rebellious daughter of his adversary Reverend Shaw Moore. Meanwhile Joanna Sawyer and Natasha Brown as Ariel’s best friends Rusty and Wendy-Jo are equally as engaging, wowing with their comic timing and vocal talents.
Yet it’s not their names headlining the posters splashed across Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre. That accolade falls to former Pop Idol star Gareth Gates, who is the show’s star drawer. When the show began there were some inevitable whispers of confusion, from punters confused that Gates was not playing the lead. Instead, Gates is playing our star’s sidekick, the well-meaning, small-town dance newbie Willard. For the most part, Gates is well utilised by the production: he has great comic timing and charm. If his performance sometimes leans towards the pantomime, Gates at least knows it. His role is played for laughs, providing the comic foil to the emotional pathos of Ren and Ariel’s storylines.
As the Reverend Shaw Moore and his wife Vi, Nigel Lister and Maureen Nolan never quite leave the same impression as their younger colleagues. Lister’s Southern American accent is lacking and Nolan’s role is limited. That said, the two impress in the final dance number, when they reveal another side to this seemingly conservative couple.
Footloose is, ultimately, an unashamedly good-natured, upbeat piece of entertainment and this production deserves credit for absolutely capturing this element. It’s often hilarious, the dancing is spectacular and the ‘80s songs are favourites. A great night out.