I was not much in the mood to be out in public or entertained after last Friday's dreadful news from the Supreme Court, but we had tickets to review "Footloose" — the second show of the season at Theatre by the Sea — so off we went to Matunuck. Zounds, am I glad we did!
I am happy to report that I left the theater in a far better place than when I entered, thanks to a talented creative team who have worked together wonderfully to create a fun show packed with snap, crackle, pop and plenty of fancy footwork.
What a testament to the healing power of the arts!
To my delight, the production went well beyond its description as an "exuberant, high-energy musical" and included extraordinary dancing, excellent acting, and — interestingly enough — several encouraging, uplifting messages.
People can behave badly — often with anger and bitterness — especially when they are hurting, grieving and suffering from loss, but kindness, love and an open heart can conquer all is just one of the morals of this story.
Another is that joy — pure, sweet joy — can be a marvelous healing agent. Another? Dancing is always fun and can help chase the blues away.
Some may remember the film 1984 film version of "Footloose" that featured a young Kevin Bacon and was later adapted for the Broadway stage with a book by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie and lyrics by Pitchford and Kenny Loggins with a score featuring such songs as "Almost Paradise," "Let’s Hear It for the Boy," and "Holding Out for a Hero."
A little aside — I was so taken with the story behind the musical that I dug a little deeper and discovered that "Footloose" is based on a true story about the small town of Elmore City, Oklahoma. When the seniors of Elmore High School wanted to plan a senior prom in 1979, the town was faced with a community crisis: an ordinance from the late 1800s forbade dancing within the city limits, making dances against the law.
But back to the musical and Theatre by the Sea's production where an innocent, wide-eyed — and superb — JP Qualters makes his debut as Ren McCormack, the plucky teenager who moves from Chicago to a conservative, rural town in the Bible belt after his father up and walks out on him and his mom, Ethel (Kristen Gehling, also making her debut at the theater, is very good).
Mother and son move in with Ethel's sister, Lulu (Dawn Tucker), and brother-in-law (James Andrew Walsh) and soon learn they've arrived in a town full of repressed and disgruntled citizens determined to inflict their misery on others (anyone know folks like that, perchance?).
After Ren realizes that dancing and rock 'n' roll are outlawed, he finds himself wrangling with the Rev. Shaw Moore (Matthew J. Taylor gives a powerful, poignant performance), the preacher who lost his only son in an accident and has been grieving and adamantly opposed to dancing ever since.
When Ren falls for the preacher's rebellious daughter, Ariel (Emma Wilcox is a fabulous force), sparks fly.
As Ren does his best to spread the gospel of joy, he connects with the shy and awkward Willard Hewitt (Ethan James Lynch is perfectly cast and gives a wonderful, touching performance with some surprising moves) and has a run-in with Ariel's violent boyfriend, Chuck Cranston (James Oblak).
Among the standout musical moments in this show are a stunning performance from Candace Haynes, who plays Ariel's girlfriend, Rusty. Sami Murphy as Ariel's pal, Wendy Jo, is a hoot. Melanie Souza as Betty Blast, Thom Warren as Coach Dunbar, Ellen Peterson as Principal Dunbar and Aimee Doherty as Vi Moore all deserve mentions as do Mikayla Reid's costumes and Kyle Dixon's scenic design.
Bob Richard and Diane Laurenson — the husband-and-wife team who served as director and choreographer — and Nathan Urdangen — making his musical directing debut at the theater — are also all to be applauded.
And one more message from "Footloose?" Stand up for rights, people, stand up for freedom!
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