BWW Reviews: FOOTLOOSE's Kids Are All Right at Broad Brook Opera House
Theatre: Opera House Players
Location: Broad Brook Opera House, 107 Main Street, Broad Brook, CT
Production: Book by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie, Music by Tom Snow; Lyrics by Dean Pitchford; Directed by John Sebastian DeNicola; Scenic Design by Tim Guay; Lighting Design by Diane St. Amand; Sound Design by Amanda Kulas; Costume Design by Moonyean Field; Choreography by Keith Leonhardt. Through December 1; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets $17-$21, visit www.operahouseplayers.org or call (860) 292-6068
After recently reviewing Flashdance - The Musical and A Christmas Story - The Musical, you can imagine my groan over the prospect of reviewing Footloose (you guessed it! The Musical!). I feared my life was fast becoming a reality show where I was consigned to see WTBS movies come to life. I liked A Christmas Story and tolerated Flashdance, but I really didn't hold out hope for Footloose, based on the 1984 film of the same name.
The Opera House Players' production currently running at the Broad Brook Playhouse actually proves that Footloose makes for a better book musical than the other two shows. Although not as beloved as A Christmas Story or as flashy as Flashdance, the piece feels less like a nostalgia exercise. The plot of a fundamentalist preacher holding a town in his sway until a rebellious outsider gets everyone dancing still feels timely in today's Tea Party timeframe.
The pop songs from the film (all co-written by the musical's librettist Dean Pitchford, thus enhancing the endeavor's bona fides) all fit nicely into the musical theatre structure and hold up 30 (!!!!) years later. "Footloose" is a suitably rousing show opener and closer. Six other songs from the film are the backbone of the score with about an equal number of new tunes written for the show, mostly sappy ballads for the grown-ups in town. Grown-ups? BORING! The only big song from the soundtrack that has been jettisoned is "Dancing in the Sheets," which is a bit of a shame.
Stepping into Kevin Bacon's star-making Keds is the multi-talented Randy Davidson. The role of Ren is truly a tour-de-force for a performer requiring equal parts acting, dancing, singing and even moderate roller skating. Davidson delivers an energetic rush onstage and seems poised to realize his playbill-stated dream of moving up to the big leagues in New York. Broadway's gain will certainly be our loss, so get to Broad Brook while he is still a Nutmegger.
Holding her own opposite Davidson is Siobhan Fitzgerald, the preacher's daughter Ariel. Trapped somewhere between a tramp with a heart of gold and a rebel in the House of the Lord, Ariel could be a dislikable figure. Fitzgerald renders the finest dramatic performance in the piece, tracking the character's arc quite well. The fact that she can also sing and dance makes her a triple-threat, particularly on the rousing Bonnie Tyler classic, "Holding Out for a Hero."
The other teenagers in town are a solid lot, for the most part. Strapping Joseph Lucenti makes for an affable lug as Willard, Ren's BFF. His performance of "Mama Says" is a highlight of the show. Madeline Lukomski's Rusty is a sweet delight, particularly in her fabulous rendition of the hit song, "Let's Hear It for the Boy." As Rusty's wing-ladies, Tina (Sparkle) Clark and the natural born comedienne Julia Grace Feinberg are deliciously daffy. Only Billy Gillen's villainous Chuck fails to summon up the requisite menace.
As for the grown-ups, well, they're grown-ups. David Chivers makes a suitably cranky and oppressive town minister struggling with his own personal biases. Debi Salli provides a well-sung and heartfelt performance as Vi, the reverend's long-suffering wife, and Vickie Blake delivers fine performance as Ren's beleaguered mother. Moonyean Field steals the show for a hot minute with her hilarious surprise appearance as Betty Blast.
Director John Sebastian DeNicola keeps things moving at a quick pace, except for some clunky transitions and a few awkward moments of blocking. The choreography by Keith Leonhardt is fun and appropriately high-energy. The set, designed by Tim Guay, cleverly uses two rotating pieces of scaffolding to create a church, a train trestle, a school hallway, and more. The only drawback is the brick wall that looks more like a chalkboard festooned with Day-Glo Post-Its.
The production's biggest failing, and it is a substantial one, is the reliance on underwhelming, under-amplified recorded tracks. DeNicola is an accomplished music director in his own right, so the choice to not use a live pit band is odd. I wouldn't have been that put off by the use of recorded music if it had just been amped up and percussive. These teens need to rock to rebel, so crank it up and let everyone get footloose.
The company of Footloose. Photo courtesy of the Opera House Players.