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Review: Footloose - the Dance Musical

Heather Smith is drumming her fingers rather than tapping her toes

Published on March 10th 2011.


Review: Footloose - the Dance Musical

FOOTLOOSE came from a particular development within the 1980s movie blockbuster scene.

With paper-thin plots, the likes of it, Flashdance, Fame and Dirty Dancing were patched together with shameless product placement and immediately transferable pop music videos.

Loaded with commercial imperative, they crudely exploited a market.

Matt Willis did little else except mope and be moody. So it seemed a tad crass when, after the bows, he took centre stage to belt out Footloose for his fans before he went

While the other three work reasonably well on the stage, however, there just isn’t enough material for the two-hour staging of Footloose: The Dance Musical - running at the Empire until Saturday – to feel anything other than slow and stretched.

The story is hitched on big city boy Ren McCormack (Max Milner) who moves from Chicago’s disco scene to the small backward-looking town of Beaumont. After a road accident killed his son, the Reverend Shaw Moore (Steven Pinder, one-time Max Farnham in Brookie) banned dancing in the town. Ren, of course, thrusts in and brings Beaumont to its high-kicking senses. He also manages to bag the Rev’s whining daughter, Ariel (Lorna Want), on his way.

There is nothing new here, which is fine; a little tedious, perhaps, to talk about “freedom” so much, but we can all live with a bit of wild exaggeration for the sake of frivolous entertainment.

Should it really take nine scenes, though, for Ren to decide that holding a dance at the town hall might be a bright idea to bring about change?

It wasn’t all bad. The big dance numbers were fun, well choreographed and full of energy. Director Karen Bruce doubles as the choreographer and the difference in pace between the few hit pop songs and the rest of the show demonstrates her key strength for quickness.

Holding Out for a Hero, Let’s Hear It for the Boy and the title track, which all made the film an instant success, are the obvious highlights here.

Other tracks, however, written specifically by Tom Snow for this stage production, are packed with cheap rhymes, feel immensely repetitive and just don’t really go with the 1980s disco sound.

Elsewhere in the script there are just a few too many crotch-focused jokes and an excruciatingly long conversation about “it” between Ren and his mumbling can’t-talk-to-girls sidekick, Willard Hewitt (Giovanni Spano). Willard was talking about dancing all along by the way, ha! But the moment for a wry giggle had passed, by approximately 13 minutes, so this instead just felt annoyingly trashy.

Maybe, after a while, I was just in a mood but I also found it most irritating that all of the women were pointless and a bit pathetic. The two mothers, Ethel McCormack (Carys Gray) and Vi Moore (Karen Ascoe) literally had nothing to do except stand beside the brutish brother and preaching husband, respectively, and sigh. But, to be fair, this was the characters and not the performances.

The other supposed “star” of this touring production is Matt Willis, formerly one third of pop-rock boy band Busted.(being 13 at their chart-topping height of fame, I’ll admit there was some significant appeal here.)

But even Matt couldn’t save this one.

He played Chuck Cranston, the leather-jacket wearing bad ass boyfriend of Ariel B.R (Before Ren). Apart from oiling his smoker’s croak of a singing voice with The Girl Gets Around early on in the show, Matt did little else except mope and be moody. So it seemed a tad crass when, after the bows, he took centre stage to belt out Footloose for his fans before he went.

For this chance to scream, however, the audience seemed spontaneously grateful and the Empire collectively stood, clapped and whooped the cast off enthusiastically. I was unsure whether fun won out in the end.

As Willard – who became the star of my show – succinctly explained to Ren: “I’m not saying it’s bad, it just ain't good.”

4/10

*Footloose, Liverpool Empire until Saturday March 12, 7:30 pm.

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