REVIEW: Footloose – it’s got the motor but still needs the key…

Oonagh Cox (Rusty), Jake Quickenden (Willard) and Lucy Munden (Ariel) in Footloose (Image: Mark Senior)

Venue: The Alexandra Birmingham

Performance Date: 19 April 2022

Reviewer: Ely King

Star Rating: ★★★1/2

Everybody knows the iconic song Footloose, the title track of the 1984 film of the same name starring Lori Singer and a youthful Kevin Bacon. There was a subsequent remake in 2011 with Julianne Hough and Kenny Wormald and it’s safe to say that Footloose falls into the cult classic category. This means that fans of the movies will have incredibly high hopes for any stage adaptations. Expectations that sadly, may not have been met by this production.

Footloose tells the story of teenager Ren McCormack (Joshua Hawkins) who when forced to move to a rural, Midwestern town in America is horrified to discover that dancing and rock music are banned. Ren finds himself at odds with the strict local minister the Reverend Shaw Moore (Darren Day). Enlisting the help of new friend Willard (played wonderfully by Jake Quickenden) Ren attempts to overturn the ban.

For this performance, there were three understudies onstage: Anna Westlake as Ethel, Betty, and Coach; Lucy Ireland as Lulu and Dan Miles as Bickle. Alongside this trio was an equally talented company of performers primed to take the stage by storm.

Without a doubt, the standout performer in this production is Jake Quickenden as Willard Hewitt. After rising to prominence on the X-Factor and dazzling audiences to take the Dancing on Ice in 2018, this celeb is no stranger to moving to the beat – and move he does. Quickenden is a hilarious class act who grabs your attention instantly throughout his captivating performance as Willard. From an unexpected scene in gold hot pants to the raucous learning-to-dance, he is a true star.

Not to be outdone, Joshua Hawkins as Ren McCormack and Ariel Moore as Lucy Munden is an incredible dynamic duo. Whilst their characters aren’t particularly true to either of the films, they are still a joy to watch on stage.

The boo, hiss villainy comes in the form of Tom Mussell as Ariel’s bad-boy boyfriend Chuck Cranston and Darren Day as the Reverend Shaw Moore. Both characters suffer from the bad-guy complex, and the actors do such a good job at portraying them that it’s impossible to separate the actor from the character. They are such inherently awful human beings that it’s almost hard to appreciate the acting behind it, they are that convincing.

All in all, the women run this show. Oonagh Cox as Rusty, Jess Barker as Wendy-Jo, and Samantha Richards as Urleen are a terrific trio who bounce off of each other as true best friends do in real life. Their chemistry feels authentic and genuine.

Despite the strong performances and although a lot of the actors work well together, some scenes feel extremely forced and disjointed. The fight scenes in particular are not particularly realistic and are very cringy to watch and lack energy.

With the accents, it’s the complete opposite, it felt like everyone tried too hard. Some women have scratchy high-pitched accents whereas some men took the southern drawl too literally and mumbled through their sentences, this sadly has a detrimental effect.

That being said, the sequences of cult anthems ‘I Need A Hero’ ‘I’m Free’ and ‘Footloose’ are easily the best parts of the show. The track for ‘I’m Free / Heaven Help Me’ gives huge Rocky ‘Eye of the Tiger’ vibes with a training sequence that is highly amusing.

Throughout the entire show, the characters of Willard and Ren provide the comical aspect of the musical, often hiding in the background or hanging off to the side doing stupid dances. The pair just have unhinged fun, which is a great addition to an otherwise, somewhat lacklustre show. However, if you are in the market for a night of 80s nostalgia coupled with some thumping anthems, get yourself a ticket and cut footloose.

Runs until Saturday 23 April at The Alexandra and on tour

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