Footloose Fort Salem Theater’s Newest Show: Everyone Will Want to Cut Loose
Imagine living in a town where dancing is against the law. Imagine it’s the late 1980s-1990s, and the senior class of Bomont High wants upset that apple cart and petition the town board for the city ordinance to be stricken from the books. You need not tax your imagination much, as this is Footloose. Based loosely on the true story of Elmore, Oklahoma, where dancing within the city limits was against the law, Footloose has added some iconic music and fantastic dance routines to bring the somewhat altered story to the stage. Fort Salem Theater has chosen this engaging musical as the second show of its season.
The story is a little weak, but the production numbers make up for the script’s shortcomings. The original screenplay was written by Dean Pitchford and adapted to the stage by Pitchford and Walter Bobbie. The play is about more than just dancing; it is about family, dysfunction, relationships, love, loss, and coming to grips and acceptance of that loss.
Ren McCormack, played with great exuberance by Connor Bailey, is a high school senior who, due to his father’s abandonment, is forced to move from Chicago with his mother to the conservative podunk town of Bomont. Bailey has a great voice, is a wonderful dancer, and has a captivating sensitivity that makes Ren a relatable, sympathetic character. He meets Ariel, the rather wild, somewhat rebellious daughter of the town’s hyper-conservative Pastor who spearheaded enacting the law against dance. Meg Calos is the feisty Ariel. She inhabits her character with steely determination, ultimately stands up against her father, falls for Ren, and gives him the courage to face the Town Board.
The large cast of 30+ fills the stage almost to the point of spilling over into the audience. They do at several times, make entrances down the theater’s aisles involving the audience on a very intimate basis. Choreographer Maya Kraus moves her cast well. Clearly, some of the ensemble is not too comfortable with the dancing aspect of the production, though they certainly give it their all.
During Saturday evening’s performance, we experienced some miking/amplification issues to the point that at intermission, theater owner Kyle West apologized to the sold-out audience and offered discounted tickets for a future performance if anyone wished to return. It was a very impressive move considering the size of the audience, and it showed his commitment and caring to the theater and the community. Ultimately, the large chorus numbers of the cast sounded as if they were almost yelling in order to be heard over the over-amplified band. Fortunately, it seemed to have rectified itself, and the second act was much more pleasing to the ears!
The cast had a number of standouts, including Luke McGee as Willard Hewitt, Ren’s friend, who is the comic foil for most of the show; unable to dance, so he thinks, McGee turns out to not only be a great singer but also probably the show’s most outstanding hoofer. Jenna Wilkinson and Quinn Donaldson both offer excellent solo spots. Jared West is also returning to the stage as the ultra-conservative Reverend Shaw Moore, who keeps many deep-seated broken dreams and disappointments within. He is the main antagonist to Ren, yet the two characters have more in common than they have differences. West does a beautiful job with the heartbreaking Heaven Help Me.
Footloose has many familiar pieces of music throughout, aside from the iconic title song, including Almost Paradise and Let’s Hear It for the Boy, all admirably performed by this cast.
Director Courtnie Harrington has done a fine job considering the stage seemed at many times to be overpopulated with cast members, and the band, somewhat hidden away on the corner of the stage.
Footloose is fun summer fare, and if the response from the audience during Saturday evening’s performance is any indication, Ft. Salem has a hit on their hands. Footloose runs through July 2. For ticket information: www.fortsalem.com.