BWW Review: FOOTLOOSE at Kennedy Center
Every once in a while you run across a big dilemma with a production. What happens when everything falls into place except one big thing? For the answer to this question look no further than the latest installment of the Broadway Center Stage series at Kennedy Center Footloose.
While the score by Tom Snow (Music) and others and Dean Pitchford (Lyrics) is catchy and infectious it isn't necessarily a unified theatre score. The songs written for the hit film and the additional material written for the stage version don't match. This makes for a jagged ride.
Pitchford and Director Walter Bobbie adapted Pitchford's screenplay for the stage and unfortunately it's predictable from the beginning.
Ren McCormick (J. Quinton Johnson) and his mom Ethel (Judy Kuhn) move from Chicago to small town Texas for a better life. They move in with relatives Lulu and Wes Warnicker (Rema Webb and Michael X. Martin). Reverend Shaw Moore (Michael Park) is a very conflicted individual. A few years back a deadly accident on a town bridge killed four young people including the Reverend's son. His wife Vi (Rebecca Luker) has tried to move on but Shaw has made it his mission to ban everything that he deems unbiblical. This includes dancing. Yep, dancing is prohibited within the town limits. The Moore's daughter Ariel (Isabelle McCalla) is your typical rebellious teenager who feels misunderstood by her father. She is currently the boyfriend of town bully Chuck Cranston (Joshua Logan Alexander) but falls in love with Ren. When Ren challenges the reverend's no dance policy the town is split over the controversy. I think you can guess where the story goes from there and yes it ends the way you think it does.
I've been pretty ornery so far in this write up so I think it is time to talk about the positives in this production.
Let's start with two performers that make the most of their all too limited stage time. Broadway powerhouse performers like Rebecca Luker and Judy Kuhn deserve star turns every time they step onstage. Luker kind of gets one with "Can You Find it In Your Heart" but Judy Kuhn's only feature is with Luker and McCalla in "Learning to be Silent". I'm well aware that's how the character is written but come now. I should also give extra kudos to Luker for performing while recovering from surgery.
Other standout performances include Isabelle McCalla who recently knocked me out on Broadway in The Prom. Her duet with Johnson called "Almost Paradise" is a definite vocal highlight.
Nicole Vanessa Ortiz as Rusty tears the house down with "Let's Hear it for the Boy" as energetically choreographed by Spencer Liff.
J. Quinton Johnson carries the show as Ren. His strong performance makes the lackluster material seem better than it actually is. His "I Can't Stand Still" is a true showstopper.
Another high point is that this production utilizes the almost full original Broadway orchestration by Danny Troob. Only the violin chair is missing. Be sure to listen to the standout saxophone work of Benjamin Bokor. The eight member ensemble is ably led by Sonny Paladino.
This is a dance show to be sure and Spencer Liff puts his company of performers through their paces. I was tired after the title opening number. The choreography is that energetic and polished.
The show's original director Walter Bobbie did what he could but twenty one years later Bobbie hasn't figured out how to make the flat material exciting.
If you decide to see Kennedy Center's production of Footloose you'll realize that despite a valiant effort the question of why produce this show at all will always remain.
Running Time: Two Hours and five minutes with one intermission.
Footloose runs through October 14, 2019 in the Eisenhower Theater at the Kennedy Center which is located at 2700 F St NW, Washington, DC.
For tickets, click here.