Pros: Memorable pop songs and an amazing cast hold the piece together with consummate ease.
Cons: The set design looked overly sparse and basic for such a polished musical.
Musicals based on films from the 1980s have something of a chequered history and Footloose never struck me as an obvious candidate. But this bright production at the excellent Peacock Theatre has happily proved me wrong. Adapted from the 1984 film starring Kevin Bacon, a thoughtful storyline still manages to land on top of the tight vocal arrangements and slick choreography. The story tells of Ren McCormack, a teenager who moves to Bomont to live with his aunt and uncle following his mother’s death. Ren soon befriends Willard Hewitt, and learns of the town byelaw prohibiting dancing. Reverend Moore lost his son Bobby following a night of partying and drink-driving. A distraught Reverend later used his influence at the town council to force through rules prohibiting the good times. Ren is inevitably attracted to the Reverend’s daughter, Ariel as he fights to change the town’s stiff attitude towards dance and the happiness it can bring.
The songs weave the plot together at breakneck pace with the title song inevitably providing a rousing opening and closure to the show. They made us wait until Act Two for the bright and breezy Let’s Hear It for the Boy, a massive pop hit for Denise Williams. However, the personification of 1980s pop was Holding Out for a Hero, a song that bore all the hallmarks of co-writer Jim Steinman; despite their efforts the cast just couldn’t escape the raucous phrasing of Bonnie Tayler who first recorded the song. A ridiculously talented cast demonstrated every discipline in the book as they danced, sang, acted and played a variety of instruments. A big shout must go out to Lindsay Goodhand, who played three roles in addition to saxophone and flute. Similarly, Emma Fraser played Wendy-Jo, while doubling up on keyboards and tenor saxophone. Joshua Dowen and Hannah Price as Ren and Ariel had telegenic presence as juvenile leads. But unsurprisingly, the most striking performance was Gareth Gates as Willard. He had only one song, the hillbilly flavoured Mama Says (You Can’t Back Down); but he was able to display his acting skills and surprisingly good comic timing.
The only let down was the disappointingly plain set that seemed happy to rely on the strength of musical numbers to carry the show. For those of us old enough to remember the 1980s, it’s a nostalgic reminder of the time filmmakers first discovered what pop music could do on the big screen. In adapting the film for stage they’ve padded the show with some routine songs, but the three pop hits shine like diamonds in the rough. Shows like Footloose have almost invented a sub-genre in theatre; insofar it’s much more than a juke box musical but not quite a play. Therein lies the key – welcome to the movie musical. It may not be to everyone’s taste but its entertainment in the most exhilarating form.
Original Screenplay and Lyrics: Dean Pitchford
Stage Adaptation: Dean Pitchford & Walter Bobbie
Music: Tom Snow with additional music by Eric Carmen, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins and Jim Steinman.
Director: Racky Plews
Choreography: Matthew Cole
Producers: Selladoor Productions, Runaway Entertainment by special arrangement with R & H Theatricals Europe
Booking until: 30th September 2017
Box Office: 020 7863 8222
Booking Link: http://www.sadlerswells.com/whats-on/2017/footloose/booking