A Light-Hearted Fight For The Chance to Dance in “Footloose”

Slow Burn Theatre Company’s latest foray into high quality musical theatre is with a production of Footloose. This 1998 musical was based on the well-known 1984 film, which achieved popular success despite being dismissed by many of the time’s major critics as, for instance, “trashy teenage cheese.”

In being, reportedly, relatively faithful to that movie, the musical adaptation is still plenty cheesy—but it does manage to be so while also being pretty consistently entertaining and even having something of a heart. 

This is because, though the musical’s central premise of a ban on dancing that proliferates the entire town of Bomont may be pretty silly, the trauma that inspired the Reverend Shaw Moore to enact said ban is in fact no joke. Thus, the rule’s very ridiculousness could be interpreted as a comment on something deeply human: just how irrational any of us can become when faced with profound grief. 

But what allows for a far more lighthearted show is that Footloose’s primary focus is not on him or on that trauma but on a pretty traditional love story. This takes place between his daughter Ariel, whose rebellious antics hide a softer heart, and Ren, a new kid with his own cross to bear who has just enough spunk and sass to pose a real challenge to Reverend Moore’s prohibition.

Slow Burn Theatre Co – FOOTLOOSE – Caiti Marlow & Kyle Southern- Photo by Larry Marano

Sparks start to fly almost immediately between the two troubled teens, which provokes the wrath of Ariel’s brainless boy toy Chuck but is quite a fortunate development for the audience. Caiti Marlowe and Kyle Southern each bring plenty of talent to these leading roles, though in truth Marlowe stood out more for her phenomenal singing voice and Southern more for his heartfelt acting and formidable dance skills.

Naturally, a handful of songs from the movie’s soundtrack are repurposed for this musical adaptation, including the title number, “Holding Out for a Hero,” and “Almost Paradise.” Perhaps the most striking, “Somebody’s Eyes,” not only takes on a haunting character when sung by Ariel’s posse but is retooled to offer humor when creatively reprised by Chuck and his cronies. 

Slow Burn Theater Co – FOOTLOOSE – Kyle Southern – Photo by Larry Marano

While the new songs probably aren’t of the type to be much worth listening to outside the context of the play, most serve their purposes well enough, and I did notice a few particularly clever lyrics such as in a rhyme between “jailer” and “fail her.” 

As far as the rest of the cast goes, Michael Dean Morgan and Irene Adjan bring strong voices and emotional truth to their roles as Reverend and Vi Moore, while Heather Jane Rolff gets a few memorable comedic bits as Ren’s mother Ethel. Dorian Quinn was another standout as the sleazy Chuck, and plenty of other ensemble members gave their all as various supporting characters and as essential backup in the show’s many all-out dance numbers. 

In what seems to have been a relatively late development, as this information was indicated via playbill inserts in contradiction to what was initially printed, Kristi Rose Mills took on the role of Rusty, the most prominent of Ariel’s trio of friends. Former ensemble member Camryn Handler was moved up to replace her as Wendy Jo, while Nikki Dikun completed the foursome as Urleen. All were effective in their roles, but it’s Mills who got the chance to wow us with her rendition of “Let’s Hear It For The Boy,” another staple from the movie. 

Slow Burn Theatre Co – FOOTLOOSE – Caiti Marlow (center) and Company – Photo by Larry Marano

But however enjoyable her rendition was, I couldn’t help but notice that the song was one of what seemed like quite a few numbers that did practically nothing to advance the plot, especially given that the Rusty/Willard subplot in general felt pretty uninteresting compared to the main action. Though this lack of plot development began to get particularly tedious in Act 2, things picked back up towards the end of the show as the issues of whether Ren or Reverend Shaw would win the war over dance and whether the Moores would be able to regain familial harmony made their way back to the forefront. 

Being that Footloose is so lighthearted at its core, you can probably guess the answers whether you’ve seen the movie or not. However, it’s still amusing enough to watch the way the play gets there, especially given the amount of genuine feeling each actor puts into their parts. 

Slow Burn Theatre Co – FOOTLOOSE – Photo by Larry Marano

As felt basically inevitable but all the more satisfying for it, the show concluded with a celebratory rendition of the title number that you’d be hard pressed to resist smiling at. Though they were on-point throughout the show, it’s in the resulting rainbow-colored extravaganza that the excellence of Clifford Spulock’s lighting, Rick Peña’s costumes, and Shannon Mullen’s choreography became most obvious. 

In any case, Slow Burn’s version of Footloose seems as if it’s likely to please fans of the movie and present an unobjectionable enough diversion to just about anybody else. So if you want to join the teenagers of Bomont in kicking off your Sunday shoes so you can kick back and relax with a fine bunch of performers, you have until this January 1st to get movin’ and get yourself a ticket!

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