Regional Reviews: Phoenix
For those unfamiliar with the plot of the film and show: High school student Ren McCormack and his mother have just moved to the small town of Bomont from Chicago after Ren's father deserted them. They've moved there to live with Ren's aunt and uncle. Ren quickly realizes that his Chicago style and way of doing things clashes with the small town's rules, specifically one enforced by local minister Reverend Moore that bans dancing and rock music due to their negative influences on the children in town. Of course when Ren falls for the minister's daughter Ariel it only makes matters worse, especially since Ren's outgoing personality is seen as a big negative influence. Ren sets out to discover the truth behind why the town has banned dancing and to find a way to bridge the gap between himself and the ultra-conservative Moore.
With such hit songs as "I Need a Hero," "Let's Hear It for the Boy," "I'm Free," and the title song, the soundtrack to the film was a smash, with two of the songs hitting #1 on the Billboard charts as well as receiving Oscar nominations for Best Song. While the film wasn't an actual musical, since none of the characters sang any of the songs, in 1998 it was adapted into a Broadway musical featuring many of the songs from the film along with additional ones written by Tom Snow and Dean Pitchford, both of whom had written songs for the movie soundtrack.
A fun, upbeat coming of age story, Footloose was the perfect feel-good summer movie and the musical is equally as fun, with lots of dancing and buoyant, infectious songs. The script by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie swiftly follows the basic plot points of the film with the lyrics from the film soundtrack songs naturally fitting into the characters' voices. While some of the added songs aren't as good as the hit tunes from the film soundtrack, they serve the purpose of providing insight into the characters and moving the story along. It's not a perfect musical, but with interesting characters, the familiar hit pop songs from the film, and non-stop dancing, it is a crowd pleaser.
This was the first time I'd seen this show with actual teenagers playing the main roles. AYT not only cast several exceptional teens for the leads of Ren, Ariel, and Ren's friend Willard, but also found some talented kids to take on the older adult parts of Ariel's parents and Ren's mom as well. All in all, the production was well cast with a group of gifted young actors and singers, led by Kale Burr as Ren and Jessie Jo Pauley as Ariel. The energy that Burr brought to the part of Ren was refreshing and addicting. He showed skilled dance moves, including some acrobatic flips and jumps, a fine singing voice, and superb delivery of the dialogue, as did Pauley. While the two of them were a bit soft and reserved on some of their songs' higher notes, they made up for the lack of power with engaging, realistic, and winning performances. Pauley was appropriately wise, smart, and sassy as the girl who knows what she needs to do to get what she wants, yet she also brought an aching sweetness and desperation to the role of a girl who is simply trying to find her place in life. Burr and Pauley also made a completely realistic couple.
As Reverend Moore, Jonah Carlson was the best of the group in both acting and singing capabilities. His sense of compassion and understanding was superb, bringing a keen sense of sympathy to the part. As Ariel's mom and Moore's wife, Rebecca Galcik was equally adept at delivering a heartfelt performance, as was Kayleah Wilson as Ren's mom Ethel. As Rusty and Willard, Ariel and Ren's friends who have a budding romance of their own, Adyson Nichols and Dallin Urness were excellent, each delivering exceptional performances, with Nichol's singing superb in both her solo "Let's Hear It for the Boy" and the trio she shares with Lois Zozobrado and Jessica Sinodis, "Somebody's Eyes." Also, Urness brought a sweetness to the part of the slow-witted but charming friend and had a blast with his solo "Mama Says." With expert comic delivery, Zozobrado and Sinodis added plenty of fun moments to their scenes.
Director and choreographer Mackenzie Mitchell gave her hard working cast plenty to do throughout the production, achieving excellent portrayals from them, and her spirited, non-stop choreography was a lot of fun. The many times the wide aisle in the audience was used throughout the show was quite effective. Creative elements were smart, with Mike Smyth's set design providing plenty of fun visuals, including the use of a giant tractor wheel that was used quite well in the staging. Aurelie Flore's costumes were character appropriate, and Tom Fitzwater's lighting design worked well with the sets to portray the various bright day scenes as well as the many nighttime moments. The only downside in the staging was that a few set changes went on a bit too long, and the song "I Need a Hero," which is normally performed as a fantasy in Ariel's head, was just delivered as a regular number. Also, there were a few brief moments when some of the cast were slightly off key or pitch, and when the small band, nicely directed by Tracie Jones, overpowered some of the more quiet vocals. But those shortcomings were small compared to how much fun and energy this cast delivered.
Footloose, with its big message about the need to fit in and the desire to change people's lives for the better, is a perfect fit for a youth theatre group. With clear direction, spirited choreography, and some very talented leads and supporting actors, the AYT production was an energetic, fun filled joy.
The Actor's Youth Theatre production of Footloose ran January 21-31, 2015, with performances at the Tuscany Theatre, 861 N Higley Rd, Suite 105, Gilbert, AZ 85234. Tickets and information for upcoming productions can be ordered at actorsyouththeatre.org or by calling 480-907-7050.
by Tom Snow