BWW Review: FOOTLOOSE at Artistry
While many theatres in town are wrapping up their 18-19 seasons, Artistry is one step ahead by wrapping up the first show of their 19-20 season. The first show of the season is the musical adaption of the movie Footloose which has a lot of meaning to many. With a movie that was released in 1984, and a remake in 2011, it's a multi-generational story that many adore. However, what makes it such a classic? It's a rather uneventful plot despite having adoring characters and some fun music. Thankfully Artistry casts a dynamic cast that helps bring the level of entertainment through the roof.
Footloose takes places in the 1980s when a seventeen-year-old by the name of Ren has to move with his mom. After his father walked out on them, they go from the big city of Chicago to the small town of Bomont. The town is small and Ren immediately is assigned as an outcast with hardly any friends and not a chance of fitting in. He also learns that the town has outlawed one of his favorite things in the world - dancing. Ren must join forces with the rest of the kids in town, including the conservative preacher's daughter, to fight back.
I'll continue saying it over and over again but the actors and audience members alike should start realizing the skill and accomplishment that Artistry has been achieving in the last couple of years. Director Benjamin McGovern has put together a cast that is ridiculously talented. The cast also shows off the brilliant musical direction of Anita Ruth. Heidi Spesard-Noble also does a great job in choreographing dance routines that feel timely to the period but fresh for this day in age. Nearly every actor, both leads and supporting roles, work well together and also each stand on their own.
What I appreciate so much about Artistry is their commitment to shows that not only have older roles but they give those roles to older actors. Rev. Shaw Moore is played by Paul R. Coate and is dedicated to the character through and through. Coate does a phenomenal job of emoting to the audience and ensuring we are not only feeling his pain but also feeling the struggle that other characters have with him.
The show, however, is lead by a younger group of actors. Erin Nicole Farste plays Rusty and has a thrilling voice to listen to. I thought of a few different ways on how I could write about how incredible her belt and higher notes are. Ultimately the only thing I could think of to say is "Mariah Carey, who?" Farste is someone to watch for.
Reese Britts, who plays Willard Hewitt and Rusty's love interest, gives an unmissable comedic performance. His comedic timing is unmatched and dominates the stage. Britts is also a very skilled singer as well and it's shown off in this production. While Britts' comedic chops are certainly there, what stands out the most is how perfectly he captures the spirit of friendship that Willard has.
A star was born the first time I saw Angela Steele perform in Legally Blonde at Artistry. Now Steele brings her talent as the female lead Ariel and I can say that the star that was born is now a star that is thriving. In what many may see as a young teenage girl, Ariel is a decently complex character. Ariel has to deal with an abusive boyfriend, a mother that rarely stands up to her husband, a father that often tries to control and shut her out at the same time and all while trying to come to grips still that her brother is dead. Steele plays these many layers of the character spectacularly.
The main protagonist Ren is played by newcomer Ethan Davenport. Davenport is a rising junior according to his bio which means he himself, like the character, is very young but that doesn't stop him from giving a phenomenal performance. Ren navigates the complexities of his character, like Steele, very well. In large musicals, usually, the mains leads aren't given a lot of serious dancing bits as those are primarily reserved for the ensemble. That being said, Davenport brings a unique flair to the title of leading man as he is a very talented dancer.
There was an apparent statement I continued to think about as I watched this. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this production as a whole, however, the show is what I had a problem with. Did this movie really need a live stage adaption? Was it just a money grab upon inception, launching off the success of the movie? The plot works for a movie however as a staged show it's sluggish and not that exciting. Many of the songs could easily have been cut into 30-second monologues and they would have been just as, if not more, powerful. Sometimes movies are left to be movies and not everything can have success on stage.
Despite its slow moving plot, Footloose still an entertaining evening with a great cast. The production continues to show that Artistry has a great handle on musical theatre and I'm especially excited for a few other shows in their upcoming season.
Footloose plays at Artistry now through August 18.