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BWW Review: FOOTLOOSE Leaves Them On Their feet, Yelling and Applauding at Porthouse


Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

The 1984 movie Footloose became a cult movie among teens and young twenties, not only because it showcased a rebel with a cause standing up for his rights, and displaying victory over misguided-adults, but because of the performance of Kevin Bacon as Ren McCormick.

Rumor says that the then 26 year-old Bacon was so intent on making his portrayal of a small town teen realistic that he enrolled as a student in a public high school to observe the students. His charade only lasted until mid-day, but, obviously created enough credibility to make Bacon a generational icon, similar to James Dean (Rebel Without a Cause), Tom Cruise (Risky Business) and Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller's Day Off).

In 1998, a musical, based on the film's motifs of book burning, a fatal car crash, anti-dance regulations and Bible Belt beliefs, became a reality. Footloose: The Musical opened on Broadway on October 22, 1998 to mixed critical reception. The general consensus was that the script was weak but the music and the production were top notch. It ran for 709 performances and was nominated for four Tony Awards.

Footloose: The Musical, with music by Tom Snow, with additional songs by Kenny Loggins, Sammy Hagar, Jim Steinman and Eric Carmen, and lyrics by Dean Pitchford (except, "Footloose" which was co-written by Pitchford and Kenny Loggins), and book by Pitchford and Walter Bobbie, is now in production at Porthouse Theatre.

The musical, like the film, follows the move of Ren and his mother, Ethel, following their abandonment by their father and husband, from Chicago to the small town Bomont. (As one of his Chi-friends moans, "Where in the hell is Bomont!?"). Bomont, where his conservative aunt and uncle have offered the destitute duo a place to stay.

The mother and son attend a church service and encounter minister Shaw Moore, the town's authority figure, where they learn that dancing, the reading of certain books, and defying of the word of the minister, is prohibited.

Of course, since this is a musical that needs a conflict to establish its purpose in being, Ren becomes obsessed with defying authority, falls for the preacher's rebellious daughter, inspires wrack and ruin among his new pack of followers, and sings and dances up a storm.

The play's "moral" is spotlighted as Ren gives an impassioned speech to the Town Council to change the rule regarding dancing, is voted down, goes to talk to Reverend Moore, and "brings forth a miracle." That, of course is a change of heart by the Reverend, and explodes into a wild version of "Footloose," leaving the audience stomping, clapping, and on its feet, which transitions into a standing curtain call ovation. (What, you were expecting something else?)

The Porthouse production, under the joyful direction of personable Terri Kent, delights the audience. She knows her crowd and she gives them all they want...a hokey story with a nice moral, dynamic dancing (thanks to the creativity of choreographer MaryAnn Black), swing musical sounds (created by the talented orchestra lead by Jonathan Swoboda), nice vocalizations, an ever-moving and captivating set (bows to Nolan O'Dell), appropriate costumes, including 1980s formal clothes that are a visual hoot, created by costume designer Anne Medlock, and some nice lighting effects by Yu (Leo) Lei.

Studly Paul Schwensen, who was mobbed by tweens after the show for autographs, mooning over his big blue eyes and sparkling white teeth, created a very credible Ren. His Joffrey Ballet training was well put to use. His renditions of "I Can't Stand Still," and "Dancing Is Not a Crime" were well presented.

Pretty, recent Kent State grad, Lindsay Simon, created Ariel Moore, the Reverend's daughter and Ren's girlfriend, with the right amount of rebel and conflicted daughter. The Ren/Ariel ballad, "Almost Paradise" was tenderly sung.

Simon was nicely supported by her girl friends, Urleen (Emma Wichhart) Wendy Jo (Katey Sheehan) and Rusty, Solon High grad, Kristen Hoffman, who vocally wailed and whose frustrating relationship with the shy Willard (portrayed to comic perfection by Dan Gettler) was well-developed. Gettler's "Mama Says" stopped the show.

Other show stoppers were "Still Rockin'," "Holding Out For a Hero," "Let's Hear It For the Boy," and "I'm Free/Heaven Help Me."

In adult roles, the always portrayal-right Tracee Patterson (Ethel McCormack), Bernadette Hisey (Vi Moore, the Reverend's wife, whose "Can You Find It In Your Heart?" was a vocal performance highlight) and Rob Albrecht (Reverend Moore) all developed clear characters, though Albrecht could have created more empathy when he finally "saw the light" if he had developed a more embittered man, early in the production.

Kudos to the often overlooked musicians: Jonathan Swoboda, Alex Berko, Craig Wohlschlager, Ryan McDermott, Erin Vaughn, Don T. Day, Sean Young and Scott Thomas for supporting rather than drowning out the singers and creating the right sound for the show.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Artistic Director Terri Kent knows her Porthouse audience, and her show selection, casting, choice of support staff and directing all lead to a very happy full-house exiting the theatre on opening night of Footloose. And, what delights will next season bring?

Footloose runs until August 14, 2016 at Porthouse Theatre. For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to Curtain times are 8 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 PM Sundays. The picnic grounds at Porthouse open 90 minutes prior to curtain time.

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