REVIEW: Footloose – won’t change your life, but it will put a smile on your face

Footloose UK Tour – Photo: Mark Senior

Venue: Aylesbury Waterside Theatre

Performance Date: 10 May 2022

Reviewer: Gemma Fincher

Star Rating: ★★★

Theatreland is somewhat saturated with movie musical offerings of late. We’ve had Dirty Dancing recently replaced by Grease at the cavernous Dominion Theatre in the West End. Both enjoyed UK tours before their London residencies. Currently touring the UK is Footloose, the 80s classic which originally starred a fresh-faced Kevin Bacon.

The musical’s plot largely follows its movie counterpart and is centred around the energetic and fidgety teen Ren McCormack played by Joshua Hawkins. A child of divorce, Ren is forced to move from the metropolis of Chicago to backwater Bomont where he instantly butts heads with local preacher, the Reverend Shaw Moore (Darren Day). Ren discovers that the Reverend has banned dancing and not being one who sits still, Ren takes it upon himself to challenge the Town Council and overthrow the law.

The main gripe with this musical is the weakness in the plot. It’s just so farfetched, it’s difficult to find any plausibility at all. Footloose is an incredibly iconic movie and sits amongst Dirty Dancing, Fame, and Flashdance as one of the most popular of a generation. It just doesn’t quite work on stage. The creatives have missed the opportunity to update the plot to be a little more intelligent with positive messages of freedom of expression. The 80s misogyny remains which, these days, is problematic.

The gripes with the plot are of course no fault of the cast, who deliver an abundance of energy in their performances. Joshua Hawkins puts in a solid turn as Ren, and Kevin Bacon’s are big shoes to fill, but Hawkins is charming and likeable in the role. He is complemented well by Lucy Munden as Ariel Moore, the rebellious and spirited daughter of the uptight Reverend. Speaking of the Reverend, the character is in very safe hands with stage stalwart Darren Day, whose vocals as ever are a dream. It’s certainly not his most dynamic role, but he delivers a believable performance as the overprotective father. It’s disappointing, then, that when Ariel gets beaten by her hideous boyfriend Chuck (played on the night by Daniel Miles) the Reverend doesn’t even react and focuses his attention on upholding the dancing ban. The plot is woefully weak here, and again there is a missed opportunity to modernise the story.

Holly Ashton and Geri Allen play multiple roles, but it is in their guise as Ren and Ariel’s mother that they truly shine. What makes this production different from many other musicals is that the incredibly talented cast also delivers the music. They adeptly play instruments on stage, and seamlessly intermingle with other members of the band. There are clearly no ends to their talents.

As strong as the cast is as a collective, Jake Quickenden is the star of the show by a country mile, whether he intends to be or not. His casting as a high school senior is questionable, but his performance more than makes up for that. He plays the ditzy Willard Hewitt with a perfect blend of comedy and endearing charm. His physical comedy is off the charts and boy can he dance, which is somewhat ironic given Willard’s assertion that he can’t!

As you would expect, Matt Cole’s choreography is very 80s influenced, and it’s impossible to fault the cast’s unending energy. They deliver the iconic numbers ‘Holding Out for A Hero’, ‘Let’s Hear It For The Boy’, and the titular ‘Footloose’ with gusto and verve.

Footloose certainly gets the blood pumping and delivers some iconic 80s classics, and the obligatory closing megamix is a wonderful highlight. Unfortunately, what it doesn’t do is deliver an engaging story. If you can look past the weak plot, the energy of the cast alone is worth a look. Footloose won’t change your life, but it will put a smile on your face.

Runs Until: Saturday 14 May and on Tour

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