Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Footloose, the Broadway musical, has the advantage of both. Although I've never seen the 1984 movie with Kevin Bacon, an awful lot of people have. And from the movie come four big hit songs: "Let's Hear it for the Boy," "Holding Out for a Hero," "Almost Paradise," and "Footloose." The thing they have in common is that Dean Pitchford wrote the lyrics for all of them. The music was composed by, in order, Tom Snow, Jim Steinman, Eric Carmen, and Kenny Loggins. Pretty much anybody who listened to the radio in the 1980s knows these songs.
With these assets behind it, the 1998 stage adaptation of Footloose, by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie, could hardly lose, and sure enough, it's still being performed 20 years later. It hasn't worn out its welcome, either. The production at the Albuquerque Little Theatre is high energy, with a lot of talented young people (and some older ones) who sing and dance like there's no tomorrow. And the story isn't as dated as you might think.
The story is a little preposterous, but apparently it has some basis in fact. There was a Bible Belt town in Oklahoma where dancing and that satanic rock and roll music were banned until the high school kids finally got the ban lifted so they could have a dance at school like everybody else in this country. The premise of Footloose is that a Chicago teenager named Ren and his mother are abandoned by his father, are out of money, and are forced to move in with the mom's sister in Bomont (a fictitious name), the town with no dancing. This doesn't sit well with Ren, who can't stand still, and he comes into conflict with Pastor Moore, who initiated the ban. To complicate things, Ren also falls for with the pastor's rebellious daughter Ariel, and vice versa. I'm sure you can guess how the story ends, but there are a few moments that add a little heft to the show, like scenes between the pastor and his wife, and especially a conversation between the pastor and Ren that brought a lump to my throat. It's a better script than I expected.
Director Laura Nuzum, stage manager Vicki Singer, and production coordinator Tobanna Barker have somehow shepherded 33 cast members into a cohesive whole. Jonathan Gallegos, the music director (taped music, no orchestra), has gotten them all to sing well. Jonathan Ragsdale and Maura Talley have choreographed in Paula Abdul/Janet Jackson music video style, which is perfect since the '80s were the heyday of music videos, and have coaxed some terrific dancing out of the leads and ensemble. As I said, it's really high-energy.
Jaaziah Vallano is only a high school sophomore, but he gives a very convincing performance as Ren, partly because he is just the right age, but mainly because he can really dance and sing and act. His voice a couple times was a little rough at the edges, probably because there was a matinee earlier on the day I saw the show, but I found it endearing. It made me think about how hard it is to pull off this role. Verónica Baca, a recent college grad, plays Ariel and already looks like a pro on stage. Paul Ashby gives a super-charming performance as Willard, the inarticulate two-left-feet cowboy who becomes a fantastic dancer in about three minutes (only in musicals and movies can this happen). Mark Pino and Jillian Foster are very good as the pastor and his wife, as is Lisette Mowery as Ren's mom. Amy Carter, Annelise Wall, and Michaela Murray are a lot of fun as Ariel's girlfriends. And everyone else in the cast does a great job. I was most impressed by the dancing, which was difficult but very well executed, and by everybody's stamina.
The set by Glenn Pepe is amazing. We can go from a high school locker room to a church to a dance hall to the pastor's kitchen in about five seconds for each set change. Joe Moncada and Sharon Welz have created cool 1980s costumes, the props by Katie Gallegos are fine, and the sound design by Lando Ruiz is very good. (The sound at ALT used to be almost routinely flawed, but it has gotten so much better since Sennheiser has been involved.)
To tell the truth, I almost skipped seeing this show since I'm not all that nostalgic for the 1980s. That would have been a mistake. From what I could gauge of the audience, even people who probably had never even heard of a movie called Footloose and didn't know any of the songs had a great time seeing this show live on stage. Such is the magic of musicals.
Footloose, through October 28, 2018, at the Albuquerque Little Theater, 224 San Pasquale SW, Albuquerque NM. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Extra performance Thursday October 18 at 7:30. Tickets $17 to $25. Info at albuquerquelittletheatre.org or 505-242-4750.