Footloose at New Wimbledon Theatre
The tour of Footloose has arrived at its last stop of its tour and I headed over to New Wimbledon Theatre to check it out. It’s a show I know inside out having directed an amateur production of it so I was excited to see this production of it.
If you know the 1984 film then the show needs no introduction but for those that don’t Footloose tells of Ren who has had to uproot his life and move to the small town of Bomont. Ren soon discovers that dancing is banned and he decides to take matters into his own hands and challenges Reverend Moore and the rest of the town Council. Along the way however he falls for Reverend Moore’s daughter Ariel and with her help and his new friend Willard, Ren begins to learn that he isn’t so different to the people of Bomont after all.
This production of Footloose is performed as an actor musician show with the majority of the cast not only singing and dancing but picking up multiple instruments between them. The only exceptions to this were the musical director who was also on bass and the drummer. Footloose is an odd choice of show to perform as an actor- muso show. One of the main draws of Footloose is that is a high octane dance production. By introducing the fact that the cast are also in the band you either restrict the dance or you lose a large portion of the cast in each number to provide the musical accompaniment. I would have preferred a band on stage (or in the pit) and the cast devoted to full out dance routines. This was not assisted by the fact that there was no real ensemble in the show and as such the cast were already working hard to fill the stage in the bigger numbers.
The other big failing of the show is that some of the more serious moments of the show struggle, for example with Ariel’s relationship with her high school drop out boyfriend Chuck the feeling that she was in peril never transpired. There was a similar issue with Ren’s awe inspiring speech to the town council and the fact that no impetus was ever provided. The issue therefore became that due to the actor-musician choice you didn’t get large ensemble dance numbers but you also didn’t get a story that the audience could invest in.
The stage itself sometimes feels cramped and often the set takes up huge swathes of space unnecessarily, leaving the actors and sometimes the dance looking constrained on stage.
Despite my reservations with the staging of the show the cast were on the whole very strong. Aston Merrygold is one of the star names attached to this show and he did not disappoint. Playing the loveable but dim Willard he had the audience laughing along with him instantly and once Willard had ‘learned to dance’ his moves were equally as impressive. Joshua Hawkins as Ren McCormack was hardly given a moment to stand still throughout the show and threw himself into each dance routine.
Ariel Moore was played by Holly Ashton in her professional debut and she struck the balance well between a fiery and sexual young woman to a butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth preachers daughter. Along with Oonagh Cox as Rusty, Samantha Richards as Urleen and Jess Barker as Wendy-Jo, Ashton’s number ‘Holding Out For A Hero,’ was a highlight of the show where their powerful vocals, fun choreography and the comedy elements of the show all came together nicely.
Footloose is helped by the fact that many of the numbers are known and to be honest these tend to be the better numbers, the audience sit upright when they her the beginning strains to ‘Let’s Hear It For The Boy,’ and you can feel your feet tapping as soon as the title song begins. Other original numbers are good fun but the pop songs are the ones that really get the audience going, especially when combined on stage with fans and gold hot pants!
This is a show that could really do with cutting loose a bit more, whist a fun night was had by the audience the energy would have been higher and the audience more hyped if the cast could have devoted themselves to just dancing those high energy dances. Was the show ‘Almost Paradise?’ Well not quiet but it was fun night with some classic songs that you can’t help but dance in your seat to!
Footloose is on until 30th August at New Wimbledon Theatre. You can find out more on their website.