Review: Footloose, York Stage Experience
Venue: Grand Opera House, August 2
With temperatures soaring and comparable to Miami, the opening night of Footloose at the Grand Opera House saw the audience melting. My daughter and I took it in turns to fan ourselves, that in itself felt like too much effort.
On stage however, amid the set of a small American town called Bomont, the young cast seemed unaffected. Their energy was astounding.
Whilst we expected anyone in the audience to faint at any minute, from scene one we had utter faith in the actors’ abilities to dance their way through to the end. And they did, in cardigans, denim jackets and cowboy boots, whilst we discreetly shed any layer of clothing we could.
I remember the original 1984 film of Footloose, which featured Lori Singer as Ariel and dream-boat Kevin Bacon as Ren. I thought I remembered Footloose. In reality, what I remembered was the Kenny Loggins theme tune.
In this year’s Stage Experience production of Footloose, the audience whooped along to the other ’84 hits such as Holding Out For A Hero and Let’s Hear It For The Boy, but there are some other real gems in the musical too.
Mama Says offers some real pearls of wisdom and I’ve been quoting it to all and sundry since: “Once you drive up a mountain, you can’t back down”. Willard Hewitt played by Reece McMahon delivers this with comic genius and a subtle Elvis impression that isn’t lost on the older members of the audience.
This stage version beautifully tells the story of Ren, played by Ben Lancaster and his quest to bring dancing back to the town of Bomont. Ren arrives with his mother, both newcomers to the town, having left Chicago after the break-up of her marriage.
Ren unwittingly breaks several rules set by the town council and is shocked to find that dancing has been made illegal. He falls in love with Ariel, played by Sarah Watson, and has to confront her father in his quest as it is her father, Reverend Shaw Moore, who has the authority in the town.
In the Eighties everybody knew an Ariel at school. There is probably still an Ariel in every school. She is rebellious and flighty but Sarah plays her with real compassion, and this misunderstood character quickly gains our affection.
I expected all singing, all dancing. The choreography (Louise Denison, who also directed the show) is fabulous and at times you are not quite sure who to watch as each dancer is so animated; the youngest members of the cast being an absolute delight.
I also expected a certain amount of cheese, and there is a little of that (and rightfully so) but there are also seem really poignant moments in this version. On Thursday night, the audience laughed at the charming comedy delivered by Willard (Reece McMahon) and his love interest Rusty (played by Lottie Henshall) and her girlfriends played by Elly Twig and Robyn McIntyre.
The audience applauded and sang along enthusiastically, but they were also quiet and attentive to the heart wrenching speeches made by Ren and Reverend Shaw Moore, played by Ash Woellner. I am blaming hay-fever for the tear in my eye when Ren explains his own losses in an appeal to the Reverend.
I particularly enjoyed the performances by Lottie Henshall (as Rusty) and detected a hint of Sara Jessica Parker, who appeared in the original film version; and Ash Woellner as the Reverend, as he successfully gave the character his essential authority and substance.
Kelly Stocker and Grace Holroyd also gave very convincing performances as the mothers of the lead characters. It is quite astounding to see their profiles at 16 and 17 years of age and to see these young ladies transformed by the wardrobe department and some excellent acting.
I think they well and truly deserve to take off their cardigans! I think they all do… their denim jackets and Ariel, your red boots. You must have been sweltering. Hats off to you all.
- Footloose is at the Grand Opera House until Saturday, August 3. For more details go to the theatre’s website
- Footloose interview: ‘X Factor tried to make me cry’
- Read more theatre stories here