It was a decade of gravity-defying bangs and untucked shirt tails. It was a time when the cool kids rolled the cuffs of their jeans. It was an era that produced great music and films. It was the ’80s. Footloose hit the big screen in 1984. Heart-throb Kevin Bacon played Ren McCormack. A big-city boy, Ren is forced to abandon his urban roots when his parents divorce. He finds himself stuck in the generic small town of Bomont, overpowered by the omnipotent Rev. Shaw Moore.
After four teenagers, including Moore’s son, die in a car accident on the way home from a concert, Moore deems rock ‘n’ roll music and dancing sinister. Wielding his influence in the town, Shaw succeeds in passing a local ordinance to outlaw dancing. With support from the teenagers of Bomont, especially Moore’s rebellious daughter Ariel, Ren attempts to persuade the townspeople to change the law. From the chicken fights on tractors to Ren thrashing and twirling through a barn to Ariel’s “Dance your ass off” shirt, the show is pure and simple ’80s fun.
The film wasn’t a hit because of the plot or the acting – it was the ’80s that made the film a success.
The musical version of the film is on-stage at the Kennedy Center this month before heading to Broadway in October. The production follows the same plot as the film, but adds a ’90s spin – the decade of platform shoes, a time when Rent has set the premise for musicals and an age when Footloose is an anachronism.
Footloose hopelessly tries to reach a modern audience, one more liberal and open to new and controversial ideas than the film’s original fans – but Footloose presents nothing new or controversial. It is simply a live production of the 1984 motion picture taken out of the decade it was meant to be in – the only decade in which it can thrive.
Thus, from the outset, the script of Footloose contains inherent problems. Lines from the original motion picture combined with new scenes create a hodgepodge dialogue. The characters do not fully develop because the script does not allow it.
Many of the songs are the same toe-tappers from the original movie. In the musical, the numbers exude excitement and energy. They reach out to the audience and involve it in the show. The production opens with a powerful rendition of Footloose. However, the next number is an unfamiliar song that fails to envelop the audience.
Footloose needed to incorporate new songs, but the songs lack the finesse and pizzazz of the originals. The new music only serves to distance the audience from the show.
The talented cast is not to blame. Stacy Francis (Rusty) gives the most memorable performance with her rendition of “Let’s Hear It for the Boy.” Her voice bellows and soars while the company dances animatedly . Overall, however, the show’s dancing is weak. Two of the male actors perform impressive acrobatic moves, but the company numbers lack the intricate moves the audience expects.
Martin Vidnovic (Rev. Moore) and Jennifer Laura Thompson (Ariel) amaze the audience with gripping vocals. Jeremy Kushnier (Ren) radiates energy throughout the entire show. Tom Plotkin’s portrayal of Willard Hewitt, the lovable, block-headed country hick, supplies the show’s comical moments.
The marvelous directoral abilities of Tony Award winner Walter Bobbie (Chicago) are evident at numerous times throughout the production. Set designer John Lee Beatty warrants accolades for an innovative set.
Despite the cast, direction and scenery, Footloose falters. The show undeniably belongs in the ’80s. The audience leaves smiling and singing the tunes – but not because of the musical. It is the music from the original motion picture that audience members are singing. It is thoughts of Kevin Bacon running through their head. It is the ’80s that makes them smile.