BWW Review: FOOTLOOSE at Nebraska Wesleyan University Theatre
FOOTLOOSE is always a sure thing. People love it as was evident by the sign on the theatre door that announced "sold out." Many of us love the idea of a small town that surrenders grief to the hopefulness of its youth. When Ren McCormack moves to Bomont with his mom Ethel, he challenges the town's prohibition against dance and ignites a movement to bring it back.
There isn't a big story here. It's just fun...good music with a lot of dancing. NWU Theatre brought in a guest choreographer, Alan Bennett, who has crafted an amazing visual experience. The dance numbers are fun, fast, and fantastic. With a broad background in dance and performance with New York and national tours, and having staged "End of the Rainbow" for Denver's Arvada Center for the Arts, Bennett put his professional stamp on the production.
FOOTLOOSE the Musical was adapted for stage by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie with music by Tom Snow and Lyrics by Dean Pitchford. Joan Korte and Jack Parkhurt co-direct NWU's production with Julie Heaton directing music.
Rico Santana as Ren McCormack demonstrates that his power play is movement. He is a gifted dancer with strong stage presence and acting skills. Maddie Wurth plays Ariel Moore with agreeable sass. She is believable as a rebellious preacher's kid who is attracted to the bad guy, Chuck Cranston (Chandler Boyte).
Ariel's three besties are Rusty (Shaelyn Taylor), Urleen (Stephanie Earhart), and Wendy Jo (Emma Kate Brown). Rusty is the leader of this little pack and Taylor plays her with humor. She has her eyes set on the bumbling, good-natured Willard (James Booker III). Taylor and Booker interact well with each other and serve up most of the laughs. "Somebody's Eyes" sung by the three girls reminds Ren that someone is always watching them in this small town.
The adults are solid choices. Lizzy Fleissner as Ethel McCormack and Tylie Tingelhoff as Vi Moore are typical mothers who put their kids first even if it takes them awhile to stand up for them. Together Fleissner and Tingelhoff sing their difficulty with keeping their mouths shut in "Learning to Be Silent." Wurth joins them and the three part harmony is beautiful. Tabor Cross plays a stalwart father to his congregation who has forgotten that he is also a father to his daughter, Ariel. Cross does well being stern without coming across as unbending. Madi Dodson captures the personality of Principal Clark without overplaying it, and Trevor Harr is a suitably irritating Coach Dunbar.
The dance is what shines in this production with vocals not quite at the same level. Garret Weskamp stands out in Cowboy Bob's "Still Rockin." "Almost Paradise" with Maddie Wurth and Santana singing the harmony in falsetto is a crowd pleaser. Top billing goes to James Booker III singing Willard's comical "Mama Says." Booker is a natural on stage, polished in his presentation, with smart timing and a great voice.
This is a fun romp back to the late 1970's. Designer Rebecca Armstrong nailed hair and costume choices, throwing some of us back to our younger years.
You can't lose with FOOTLOOSE. Kick off your Sunday shoes and cut loose at the McDonald Theatre on the NWU campus. You have several more chances to catch it, but based on the turnout so far, you might want to call soon.
August 18,19: 2:00 pm and August 22-24: 7:30 pm