Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Bobbie and Dean Pitchford co-wrote the book for the 1998 musical, based on Pitchford's screenplay for the original 1984 movie starring Kevin Bacon, and Pitchford also wrote the lyrics to Tom Snow's music. Of course, the show also includes the famous pop hits from the movie, starting with the title song.
The story is schematically simple. In a nonspecific recent past (David C. Woolard's costumes are all over the place), high school student Ren McCormick (J. Quinton Johnson) is growing up in Chicago, where he can let off steam with his friends at dance clubs. After Ren's father abandons the family, Ren and his mother Ethel (Judy Kuhn) move to the isolated town of Bomont to stay with relatives.
As Ren tries to find his place in this rural community, he learns that a civic leader, the Reverend Shaw Moore (Michael Park), is behind a town ordinance that outlaws dancing in town. Why? He blames dancing (and drinking, pot smoking, and filthy rock lyrics) for the deaths of four Bomont teens in a car crash after a dance some years earlier. Ren finds an ally in Moore's rebellious daughter Ariel (Isabelle McCalla), which makes him a target of Ariel's sleazy boyfriend Chuck (Joshua Logan Alexander).
Johnson is an electric talent, which helps move things along, but several fine actors are struggling with roles that don't give them much to do. Tony Award nominees Judy Kuhn and Rebecca Luker, as Ren's mother and Moore's wife respectively, spend most of their time dealing with difficult matters, feeling sad and aggrieved until the finale. Park is stolid in a role that could use more fireworks. Peter McPoland and Nicole Vanessa Ortiz shine in the supporting comic roles of Ren's gawky friend Willard and Ariel's sassy friend Rusty.
Choreographer Spencer Liff also has Broadway credits, but his work here is serviceable rather than memorable. Several of the dance numbers look more like calisthenics routines than like people breaking loose.
Paul Tate dePoo III's scenic design centers on metal scaffolding that holds the seven musicians, conducted from the keyboard by Sonny Paladino, rising above a changing configuration of abstract metal panels and cubes. He also created the projections, which range from the interior of a Chicago disco to a high school football field, a honky-tonk, and a diner with waiters on roller skates.