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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Footloose
Novello Theatre Spring-Autumn 2006; Playhouse Autumn 2007

The stage version of the 1984 film about the town that forbids dancing and the rebel boy who shakes things up is surprisingly good. 

I say surprisingly because this is theatre-for-people-who-don't-go-to-the-theatre, and as some recent examples have demonstrated, the temptation is always there to treat that audience with implicit contempt, delivering the absolute minimum that will keep them happy.

But Footloose is fun, exciting and entertaining. I'm not going to overpraise it, but it does offer real value for money.

To get the weaknesses out of the way quickly, most of the dialogue scenes are awkwardly written, directed and acted, and the quieter plot-driven songs are weak. But once they shut up and start dancing (or sing and start dancing), the place comes alive and the show rocks.

Director-choreographer Karen Bruce may not know what to do with people just talking to each other, but her dances are energetic, inventive and witty and the dancers perform them with infectious enjoyment.

The songs, by a variety of writers, come mainly from the movie (though in some cases they were just background or briefly-heard soundtrack snippets there). Highlights, along with the title number, are the 80s hit Holding Out for a Hero, Let's Hear It for the Boy, I'm Free, a rocking country-western dance and the extended post-curtain-calls dance encores - all of them occasions for exciting, stage-filling dancing.

A logical point of comparison for this show is the recent stage version of Saturday Night Fever, another dance-based film, and this one wins by a mile, for choreography, performances and just plain fun.

As the boy who shakes things up, Derek Hough has real star power, singing and dancing up a storm and generally driving the energy and fun quality of the show. Lorna Want is pretty and blonde and sings nicely, which is really all the badly-written role of the preacher's daughter allows for.

But the role of the uptight preacher does really want more indication of inner torment than Stephen McGann brings it. (Generally, the whole subplot about the preacher's family is so badly sketched in that it might as well have been dropped.)

As the second-string teen couple Giovanni Spano and Stevie Tate-Bauer provide strong support and each get a show-stopping number that they make the most of.

Ignore the plot scenes. Sit patiently through the slower, supposedly dramatic songs. Wisely, the show does not spend much time on them, and you never have long to wait before another rockin' dance sequence.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Footloose - Novello / Playhouse 2006