Also see Rob's review of Paloma
If you're looking for the perfect family theatre outing this summer, Musical Theatre Southwest's production of Footloose might be just the ticket.
As someone who once claimed to be a musical fanatic, perhaps I should be ashamed to say that I'd never seen the 1984 movie Footloose, which launched Kevin Bacon's career. In this production of the stage version, the cast is energetic and emotive, the production quality is impressive, and the musical numbers will have you dancing in your seat. Director Bill Potenziani leads a gifted cast and crew to produce what will likely be one of the most memorable theatrical experiences of your summer.
For the unfamiliar, the basic plot is as follows: Ren McCormack (Albuquerque theatre veteran Jonathan Ragsdale) is a dance-loving Chicago teen who moves to the small town of Bomont with his mother Ethel (Alissa Hall). Ren quickly learns that his free-spirited, big city ways aren't welcome in this tiny, religious town. The local ban on dancing is a metaphor for deeper forms of suppression that residents hide under the surface and no one ever talks about. Ren proves to be just the wrench in the machine necessary to shake the town back to life through the power of dance.
Ragsdale's musical theatre major/dance minor from UNM serves him well as the production's lead. He is one of the strongest dancers among a cast of highly talented dancers. Ragsdale proves to be a triple-threat: he sings and dances, but doesn't use either as a "smoke-and-mirrors" cover up for poor acting. He brings an acting performance as powerful as his musical solos, giving Ren an emotional depth required of a character struggling to find peace in a strange new life. Adrianne Morrow-Jones is Ragsdale's costar, playing the fiery preacher's daughter Ariel Moore, who sneaks out at night and dates the biggest low-life in town as pure acts of rebellion, hoping to get the attention of her emotionally distant father. Morrow-Jones has a powerhouse voice, and her portrayal of Ariel is one that lets the audience see through her bad-girl exterior to the deeply troubled and lonely young woman within.
Other stand-outs include Janine O'Neill as Rusty, Ariel's loud-mouth best friend, and James Ackermann as Willard, Rusty's thickly-accented love interest and one of Ren's first friends in Bomont. Watch these two for much of the production's comic relief. The few performers mentioned here are excellent, but they are bolstered by a dynamic and talented supporting cast. From the acting, to the directing, to the set and costume design, there are really no weak links in this show.
Footloose runs through August 12th, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 2:00pm, at the African American Performing Arts Center on the EXPO New Mexico Fairgrounds. Tickets are $22 adults, $20 students and seniors and may be purchased at the MTS Box Office in the Center for Theatre, over the phone at 505-265-9119, or at the door half an hour prior to the performance. Visit musicaltheatresw.com for more information.