Ren McCormick is back, and every bit as hell-bent on securing his all-American freedom to dance as he was on the silver screen some three decades ago, as Laguna Playhouse gives Broadway’s Footloose The Musical an infectiously crowd-pleasing revival.
That ‘80s Hollywood classic introduced a heap of Top 40 hits, including the title song (written by Kenny Loggins and Dean Pitchford), “I’m Free” (by Loggins), “The Girl Gets Around” (by Sammy Haggar), “Holding Out For A Hero” (by Jim Steinman), “Almost Paradise” (by Eric Carmen), and “Let’s Hear It For the Boy” and “Somebody’s Eyes” (by Tom Snow and Pitchford).
Fourteen years later Footloose made it to Broadway as a full-fledged musical, with most of the movie hits integrated into its story line and a bunch of new Snow/Pitchford creations added.
The resulting production ran for over 700 performances, and has since become a high school and college favorite.
Like the movie, Footloose The Musical follows teenage Ren (Logan Farine in a star-making performance) and his mother Ethel (Jill Slyter) from Chicago to the sticks of Bomont, where the two seek refuge after being abandoned by Ren’s father.
It’s hard enough for the big-city boy to adjust to life in the boonies, but when he learns that dancing is against the law inside city limits, it’s the last straw, and Ren determines to do something about it.
But first he must conquer the high school population, and so the fish-out-of-water newcomer turns himself into the boy all the girls want to be bad with, particularly Ariel (Lily Davis), the rebellious daughter of town preacher Shaw Moore (Ricky Pope).
Abetted by a sweet but not-too-bright fellow student, aka his new best friend Willard (Michael Stancliff), and by Ariel’s three best girlfriend’s Rusty (Charlene Jean), Urleen (Melissa Mangold), and Wendy Jo (Ashley Nicole Martin), Ren vows to bring dancing back to Bomont, if it’s the last thing he does.
This being musical theater, it’s a no-brainer how it all turns out, but getting there is what makes it fun.
Some may carp that Footloose The Musical lacks depth and that its characters are short in substance, but who in his right mind can complain when such a good time is being had by all, from the musical’s supremely talented young ensemble to audiences who can’t resist rising to their feet to dance along at the production’s grand finale “Megamix.”
Kevin Bacon’s boogie shoes may be big ones to fill, but fill them Farine does, and then some, bringing to the role boy-next-door good looks, pop idol pipes, abundant charm, and above all Footloose-worthy footwork. (That Farine is also an accomplished musician only adds to the likelihood of great things ahead the 21-year-old Pittsburgher.)
UC Irvine senior Stancliff was clearly born to play “good ol’ boy” Willard, a role he brings to irresistibly spunky life, and never more so than in Willard’s hilarious salute to his mother’s quirky brand of wisdom in “Mama Says.”
Washington DC’s Jean is a charmer too as Willard’s dream girl Rusty, her “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” proving one of the evening’s big vocal showstoppers, and Mangold and Martin are terrific too as Rusty’s besties Wendy Jo and Urlene.
Tall, dark, and handsome Joseph Abrego positively smolders as Chuck, the meanest bad boy in town, whose “The Girl Gets Around” proves another applause-getter, after which the recent UCI grad geeks out hilariously as Bomont High’s weakest athletic link.
Among the adults, Pope’s Reverend Moore sings a moving “Heaven Help Me” and Laguna Beach’s very own Carol Robinson does sensitive work as preacher’s wife Vi, her “Can You Find It In Your Heart” another song standout as is her “Learning To Be Silent” opposite Slyter’s fine and feisty Ethel.
Additional grown-up roles are well served by Mike Brennan (Coach Roger Dunbar and Cowboy Bob), Maryann DiPietro (Betty Blast and Lulu Warnicker), Hannah M. James (Eleanor Brennan), and Todd Tucker (Uncle Wes, Principal Clark, and Cop).
Still, if there ever was a show that belongs to The Young And The Gifted, it’s Footloose The Musical, all-around stellar marks shared by triple-threats Abrego, Davis, Farine, Christopher Hansell (Lyle, Jeter), James, Jean, dance captain Mangold, Martin, Derek Leo Miller (Travis), Bryce Colby Vaewsorn (Bickle), assistant dance captain J’Royce D. Walton (Garvin), and Siena Yusi (Mary Sue).
Paula Hammons Sloan directs for Boebe Productions with assurance and flair, her high-energy choreography giving Footloose’s young performers the workout of their lives and audiences full bang for their bucks.
P & G Designs’ set is Footloose’s weakest production design element, backing the stage with some rather boring two-level scaffolding and nothing else throughout, though stage-left -and-right set pieces do help lend a more professional sheen.
Costumes (also by P & G Designs) are quite good, though their contemporary look (and a bit of onstage texting by ensemble members) hardly jives with a book that is clearly set in a pre-Internet era.
Glenn J. Powell’s lighting design is topnotch. (Powell also designed the production’s few projections.)
Under Jeff Biering’s musical direction, Footloose’s non-Equity cast vocalize like the pros they are, and though instrumental tracks are prerecorded, the production hardly suffers from its canned band, perhaps due to the Top-40 nature of the score. (Juan Sanson’s expert sound design helping greatly, whether backing up singers and dancers, or providing a cinematic soundtrack to dramatic scenes.)
Gail Anderson is production supervisor. Bradley Zipser is production stage manager and Javier Carillo Jr. and Brittni Finley are assistant stage managers.
Despite the decidedly mixed reviews that greeted its 1998 Broadway debut, Footloose The Musical ran well over a year and a half, then (considerably tweaked) inspired two US National Tours, three UK tours, three West End productions, and countless regional stagings, of which Laguna Playhouse’s is the latest.
Regardless of whatever critical pooh-poohing the show has received over the past seventeen years, Footloose The Musical has survived quite nicely indeed, and this reviewer is one of its biggest fans.
Check out the oh-so talented performers who bring Footloose The Musical to life at Laguna Playhouse and you too will likely find yourself wanting to jump up, let go, and (in the immortal words of Kenny Loggins) “cut footloose.”
The Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach.
July 22, 2015
Photos: Ed Krieger