Tuesday 29th March 2022 at York Theatre Royal.
Based on the 1980’s movie, Footloose the Musical tells a classic tale: newbie in town rustles feathers, falls in love and creates merry chaos before inviting some wholesome shifts in perspective. Featuring some cracking songs including “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” and “Holding Out for a Hero” along with the thumping title track, this show is built on good musical foundations.
It’s always a tentative first five minutes when a show is so heavily reliant of American sights and sounds, but this cast hold their own with accents and Sara Perks’ designs swiftly communicate time and place through loud 80’s set and costume. We’re in “rural backwater America” where Rock’n’Roll and dancing have been banned thanks to Reverend Moore (Darren Day)’s strict leadership of the town. Surprise surprise though, he has a tearaway daughter, Ariel (Lucy Munden), who wants to be anything but a good little pious girl.
Cue Ren (Joshua Hawkins) and his big ideas about returning Bomont to the land of the free (to sing and dance)… There are distinct echoes of other popular 70’s/80’s teen movies like Grease or Heathers in terms of supporting cliques of guys and gals and this provides some nice light relief through hyper-American twang and slang paired with energetic moves and a good few physical gags.
Hawkins and Munden prove strong leads with good chemistry (most evident in their fabulous duet) – each torn teen seems to think they hold the title of rebel in this-here town, but they give each other a run for their money. Hawkins is all mop-haired, side-smirking charm and Munden is all eyebrow-raised, hip-swinging attitude – a good pairing for a rebellious tale. Jake Quickenden as the Billed Big Name, receives fanfare for his comic number “Mama Says” (title assumed here as I can’t find mention of such a thing) and also for the much-anticipated golden shorts reveal. His is a written caricature of the dumb hottie cowboy type, so it’s not a character designed for depth let’s say, but he provides some great comic relief from the teen angst and lectures from the Rev.
Musical highlights are often the territory of Lucy Munden, whose “Holding Out for a Hero” offers pleasing departures from the famous original while the Munden/Hawkins duet of “Almost Paradise” arguably elevates the whole second act. Hawkins nails the energy of the title track (and not just the once) while “Somebody’s Eyes” is another winner as a distinctive segue song which moves smoothly between sultry tones and mild sense of threat (and a little comedy too) – beautifully performed by Ariel’s trio of friends played by Oonagh Cox, Jess Barker and Samantha Richards.
This is a very busy show and while the cast are great, bringing the pipes, the speedy footwork (choreography: Matt Cole) and the comedy chops with them as necessary, the show itself, with Book by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie, has peaks and troughs that director Rocky Plews doesn’t seem to have found quite the right balance with. Some songs (music: Tom Snow, lyrics: Dean Pitchford, Kenny Loggins) soar and force the toes to tap, while others feel like padding and remain completely unmemorable (or for some of this particular performance – inaudible in terms of lyrics). In the same way, the tearaway teens angle is more engaging than the family dynamics which somehow feel shoe-horned in to appease a need for sentiment. That’s not to say that the framework of the troubled family unit doesn’t serve a purpose of course, it’s just that it feels like a tangent rather than a driving force at times.
All in all? This is a packed show which delivers on cast and choreo and mostly delivers on music and plot, in all its 80’s energy and style. See this if you love this era of musicals and you can forgive some padding – there’s plenty to enjoy besides – not least the energised finale which sends audiences home on that post-musical high.
Footloose plays York Theatre Royal until April 2nd 2022 – you can find tickets here (2 for 1 tickets are available for Footloose as part of the UK Theatre/ National Lottery Love Your Theatre Campaign).