Regional Reviews: San Francisco
An Audience Friendly Production of Footloose
Crossroads Theatre, an new enterprising regional theatre in Walnut Creek, is currently presenting Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie's stage adaptation of Footloose, with music by Dean Pitchford and Tom Snow, and additional songs by Eric Carmen, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins and Jim Steinman.
Footloose premiered at the Kennedy Center during the fall of 1998 and then moved to the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York in October 1998. Most of the critics gave it thumbs down and called it a minor Grease. However, audiences paid little attention to the critics and the musical went on to play 709 performances. The musical was a big hit in Tokyo where it played for two seasons. London and the provinces saw the musical later where audiences gave it thumbs up. I saw the show several weeks after it opened in New York with the young Hunter Foster making his Broadway debut.
Footloose is not easy to mount since it needs an ensemble of twenty-five to twenty-seven singers and actors. The visuals are flashy, and Crossroads director Claire Yarrington manages to fill the 30 x 28 feet stage with young talented singers and energetic and athletic dancers. The dancing and choral work makes this sugar-coated musical audience friendly for those who remember the fabulous '80s when they were young. The music sounds like a mélange of musical styles which are mostly innocuous and the lyrics are commonplace. There is a bit of a Sondheim-type song called "Leaning to Be Silent," beautifully sung by Kathy Ferber and Leah Tandberg. It is one of the better moments in this cotton candy musical.
Footloose's very thin plot is based on the 1984 film which starred Kevin Bacon and John Lithgow. Chicago natives Ren McCormack (Dan Allan) and his mother Ethel (Leah Tandberg) are sadly relocated to a small Midwestern called Bomont. The town is headed by stern, puritanical Reverend Shaw Moore (Paul Plain) who forbids dancing of any kind because a group of four teenagers, which included his son, were killed in an automobile accident. It is up to the young hellion Ren to change the good minister's mind that dancing is good for the young folks. We also see the unhappy life of the minister's wife Vi (Kathy Ferber) and a rebel daughter Ariel (Madissen De Turris) who is sneaking out of the house to hang out with the bike crowd. There is comedy relief from Willard Hewitt (Marc Michael Murai) who looks and acts like a comic sidekick from a Roy Rodgers film.
Dan Allen (Little Women, Seussical, national tour of Life of Beethoven) seems a might too old for Ren. He gives the character an abrasive style that makes one wonder why anyone would like him. Allen has good moves when dancing and his vocal chops are forceful in the songs. Madissen De Turris (The Man Who Came to Dinner) does what she can with the character of the insurgent daughter Ariel. She gives her a spunky style yet is able to confer a quieter side as well.
Paul Pain (Man of No Importance at NCTC, many shows at the Willows) is properly stern as the no-nonsense minister and has a pleasant voice singing several solo numbers. Kathy Ferber (daughter of theatre and movie star Pamela Britton, has appeared in Little Women, My Fair Lady) is excellent in a quiet way playing the wife Vi. Marc Michael Murai (Into the Woods, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown ) as Willard gives good comical relief as Ren's sidekick. He gives a hootenanny performance singing the foot-stomping "Mama Says." Megan Botts (many Willows productions) is perky playing Ariel's best friend. She, along with a trio of sprightly singers, is crowd pleasing singing "Let's Here It for the Boy." Leah Tandberg as Ren's mother has little to do but is effective in the role.
Footloose does have technical polish and the kids give it their all. The musical definitely is aimed toward the family audience and in that respect it succeeds. The show continues through October 28th at their theatre located at 1277 Boulevard Way, Walnut Creek. For tickets please call 925-944-0597 or visit www.ctacrossroads.org.