'Footloose: The Musical' review: Croswell cast having a great time bustin' a move
D. Ward Ensign as Reverend Moore confronts Griffin Yeater as Ren in a scene from "Footloose" at the Croswell Opera House. Courtesy of Ashlee Sayles.
Though a staple of its heyday with an enduring legacy thanks to the dreamy Kevin Bacon, an unforgettable soundtrack, and cute one-liners, 1984’s “Footloose” doesn’t live in the pantheon of great cinema. The conventional story about displaced Chicago native, Ren McCormack ending up in the town of Bomont where, of all things, dancing has been outlawed was never lauded for its narrative ingenuity, but it gave an excuse for Bacon to unspool his frustration through dancing (plus “Almost Paradise” and “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” are certified bangers). The Croswell’s production of “Footloose: The Musical,” part of their Broadway summer series, might suffer from the same iffy narrative, but the entire 50+ ensemble, director Erin Pifer, and choreographers Jessica Briggs and Sarah Nowak understand they aren’t trying to rewrite the history books on “Footloose” and its critical reception, they’re trying to give local audiences a splashy, toe-tapping good time and on those merits, it’s a major success.
Scenic work by Doug Miller also goes a long way in grounding the story, whereas the script by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie relies on your pre-determined knowledge of the movie (which, let me go on the record and say the 2011 remake is actually better because it understood the basic fundamentals of why folks loved “Footloose” in the first place - dancing). That’s fine considering “Footloose: The Musical” is already established and many purchasing a ticket understand what’s on the docket, but first time “Footloose” flyers might lose sight of the story and how quickly it brushes through important character arcs, however, they’ll still have a blast watching this cast set the tone with iconic hits like the aforementioned “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” but also the titular song and “Holding Out For a Hero” which all sound great under Raymond Novak’s musical direction with the assist by Michael Yuen in the vocal department.
Chris Sancho also deserves major kudos for outfitting the entire ensemble with a slick blend of ‘80s clothing and giving audiences several pop culture easter eggs to nibble on. Does the timeline add-up for a “Bill and Ted” reference? Maybe not, but we’ll allow it. Eagle eyed fans should lookout for references to “Ghostbusters,” “Say Anything” and “Top Gun.”
Leading the cast are the immensely talented duo of Griffin Yeater and Aiyanna Fivecoat as Ren McCormack and Ariel Moore, two teens with an affinity for one another: the latter trying to band together with his newfound buddies (enter Maxwell Lam’s gleeful and near scene stealing Willard Hewitt) to reverse the dancing ban upheld by the grieving Reverend Shaw Moore (D. Ward Ensign - terrific); and the former, the daughter to Rev Moore, is dealing with a mixture of problems, among them an abusive boyfriend, while forging a path with pals Rusty (Gabrielle Blondin - who brought the house down singing “Let’s Hear It for The Boy”), Urleen (Anjewel Lenoir - bubbly and silly in the best way), and Wendy Jo (Elise Brown - hilarious). The story is just as you remember it, with a few added contextual songs that may or may not earn their place. “The Girl Gets Around,” a tune about Ariel’s freewheeling spirit, doesn’t hold its own against the main set-pieces and one wishes Pitchford and Bobbie might have left that one on the cutting room floor. Still, Ben Logue, Caleb Handy, and Matthew Antalek are in good spirits, playing Chuck and his posse of close-minded rednecks.
Aside from the occasional transition gaffe, Pifer directs the hell outta the script and interweaves her massive cast in and out of the stage with ease. There’s plenty of commotion happening in the background, but it’s never overwhelming. It feels lived-in and those who reside in smalltown, USA will certainly relate. Lighting design by Tiff Crutchfield, Karl Kasischke’s solid projections and Chris Goosman’s sound mixing all work in beautiful unison, helping the show stay on track.
I had a blast watching “Footloose” for the sole reason because the cast was having fun and they made the experience worthwhile. It’s not an easy balancing act when you’re juggling a small army on stage, but Pifer and co pull it off. You might not remember much about how the story steered from one place to another, but you’ll never forget the infectious energy that’s emboldened by nostalgia, great tunes and yes - dancing.
FOOTLOOSE: THE MUSICAL continues through June 19th at The Croswell Opera House. Tickets can be found here.