Footloose: The Musical
Kansas City, Missouri
August 5th, 2013
Our Score: 2 out of 5 stars
On a muggy night in the Heartland, it seemed fitting that the production of “Footloose” would be sweat inducing and, for female attendees, steamy. As the title song belted out and a company of extras began to dance to the iconic pop-rock beat of the 80’s, my ears perked up. I’m well versed and cultured enough to know about previous generations, but I’ve never seen the movie “Footloose,” nor had I ever a care to. In that moment of cutting loose and kicking off the Sunday shoes, I found myself interested. I was ready for this glimpse into the 80’s. My expectations jumped up to the par with everyone else that night as the cast showed off their best moves during the opening number. Boy did those hopes fizzle out.
Ren McCormack (Max Clayton) and his single mom, Ethel (Paula Leggett Chase), are heading from the city lights of Chicago to the humble countryside of Beaummont. A stereotypical middle-American small country town. The kind that is drenched from hillside to hillside in golden wheat and pristine corn fields. The residents are set in their ways and are already weary and gossiping about Ren and his mom the morning they arrive at church. Despite the police and other community leaders, Reverend Shaw Moore (George Dvorsky) is the overriding moral, spiritual and political leader of this town. Years ago, a tragic accident took the life of four teens, including Shaw Moore’s son. Since then, the Reverend has imposed a strict no-dancing law in the town. As absurd as this sounds, this has actually happened in the U.S. (the town of Elmore City, Oklahoma banned dancing for over 100 years and was Dean Pitchford’s inspiration for his script for “Footloose”). For the energetic Ren, who expresses his emotions through dance, this is a nightmare. He manages, though, with the help of classmate and friend, Willard Hewitt (Matthew Dorsey Moore) and the pastor’s daughter, Ariel (Taylor Louderman).
For a musical called “Footloose”, it really seems like the big dance numbers are kept to a minimum and dancing in general through the middle part of this story is stifled. It seems like the dance choreographer is playing the part of Reverend Moore during half these songs. If there were more songs like “On Any Sunday”, “Footloose” and “Let’s Hear it for the Boy”, this would have been a grand dance and song musical on par with other greats. That doesn’t mean the other songs aren’t good. When you have Kenny Loggins, Sammy Hagar and Jim Steinman sharing the writing credits, you can’t go wrong with some rockin’ songs and love soaked ballads.
The show has a problem settling on a main idea. On one hand it could be a time capsule of an aging era. On another it’s the story of young vs. adult and traditional vs. new. It also tries to be a sexy, hip look at the lives of teenagers in a small town. Some of those ideas will grab hold and really stick with a viewer. But as for me, I was a bit overwhelmed by all three together and underwhelmed by each on their own. My personal preference would have been a time capsule. Every generation has the conflict of “parents just don’t understand” and very few stories actually have a whiff of creativity when it comes to exaggerated teen comedy/dramas. If these two ideas took a seat back to fun dance numbers and this musical’s catchy 80’s music, “Footloose” would have been a memorable evening at Starlight.
As I stated with Starlight’s previous iconic 80’s musical “Flashdance”, I may have been created in the 80’s, but I’m a product of the 90’s. I haven’t seen the 1984 movie, nor its 2011 remake. Some of the older people in the audience seemed to really dig it, but this is not my cup of tea. I loved the music, the dancing (when it happened) and the creative set pieces by Robert A. Kovach. My view of the 80’s is that it was the last generation with a true rebellious nature. The music struck a nerve in an era of growing morality and Reaganomics. Genres like punk rock, grunge and some sultry pop icons like Madonna festered and spoke to a confused and rambunctious generation. I wasn’t hoping for that style of music or any blatant liberal ideology. I was simply hoping for it to touch upon these ideas in a sentimental manner and sometime comical fashion.
“Footloose” will be at the Starlight Theatre in Kansas City until August 11th.