by Susan Davidson
Footloose, the new Walter Bobbie musical, based on the 1984 hit movie of the same name, opens with a dayglo colored silklike scrim and overamplified, not particularly original, rock and roll music. Teenagers whirl about the stage on skateboards and rollerblades singing lyrics that include such buzzwords as "cut loose" and "sexuality" both of which prove to be a tease. This was the first of many numbers whose lyrics were unintelligible from my Row V seat.
Enter Ren, hero of the piece, played very ably by Jeremy Kushnier, a newcomer to Broadway, whose arrival will certainly merit much praise and possibly an award or two. The Canadian native, trained as a classical dancer, moves with grace, agility, and a naturalness that is a joy to watch. He can sing too. And his stage presence is well suited to the role of street smart, big city kid who ends up in the sticks.
Poor Ren. The story (such as it is) goes like this: His father has walked out on him and on his mother, Ethel (Catherine Cox, an elegant dancer), so that he "can find himself." (Footloose is not short of cliches.) With no means of support, Ren and Ethel are forced to seek refuge with relatives in Bomont, a small town somewhere in the Midwest, sometime in the past. Ren shows up at the local school where he is looked on with suspicion by the boys and curiosity by the girls. Willard (Tom Plotkin) the biggest rube of the lot, tells him that in Bomont a stranger, if he's not dumb, is considered dangerous. Ren then learns that in this particular small town there is an additional problem. Following an automobile accident five years ago, in which several of the town's drunken teens, including the Reverend's much revered son, were killed, the council passed a law forbidding, among other things, dancing. In other words: no booze, no sex, and very little rock and roll. "What," Ren then asks his new best friend, Willard, "do kids do around here for fun." Masturbation, mimes Willard. So much for plot.
In Bomont, the teens don't rebel. They have no television, no telephone, no movies. The one reference to the internet seems anachronistic. As for music, noone makes it or listens to it. Reading is another no-no, with a line about the trouble one kid has getting through a Cliff Notes getting a big laugh.
Any audience member who by this point has not suspended all disbelief, if not disgust, should do so immediately. In a town where people do nothing, Ren cannot stand still. What follows is his campaign to get the law changed. With the wise counsel of his politically savvy mother, he does! (Since when does a teenage boy listen to his mother? Since Footloose!)
Ren's success gives the Minister faith and hope in humanity, wins the heart of the Minister's daughter ( never a tough sell) and turns the entire town on to dancing at the Prom. Andy Hardy meets Dirty Dancing and Saturday Night Fever . Trouble is those movies were infinitely better than this staged musical with its cacophonous music and lyrics that except for "Almost Paradise" by Eric Carmen, "Mama Says," and "Can You Find It In Your Heart," are neither funny or original.
The choreography, by A.C. Ciulla, is pleasing especially when Ren is center stage or, in the second and better act, when Tom Plotkin, as Willard, is amusingly transformed from a klutz intoa veritable hoofer. John Lee Beatty's scenery is colorful but the lighting is unremarkable. Costumes consist of conventional teenage gear: jeans, t-shirts, loose-fitting tuxedos and too-tight-in-the-bodice prom dresses.
Director Walter Bobbie would have had a hard time topping his last show, Chicago, no matter what he tried. And maybe he is still "editing" Footloose but the truth of the matter is that this material is very weak and no matter how many cartwheels the kids turn, no matter how many shoulders roll and hips swivel, old timers will be nostalgic for All That Jazz or Grease, and younger audiences have seen and heard better at many a rock concert.
LINKS OF INTEREST
CurtainUp's Review of Chicago
Footloose in NYC
Adapted for the stage by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie, based on the original screenplay by Dean Pitchford
Music by Tom Snow
Lyrics by Dean Pitchford with additional songs by Eric Carmen, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins, and Jim Steinman
Directed by Walter Bobbie
Starring Martin Vidnovic, Dee Hoty, Jeremy Kushnier, and Jennifer Laura Thompson with Stacy Francis, Tom Plotkin, Catherine Cox, Billy Hartung, Robin Baxter, Rosalind Brown, Catherine Campbell, Kathy Deitch, John Deyle, John Hillner, Adam LeFevre, Donna Lee Marshall, and Nick Sullivan.
Scenic Design: John Lee Beatty
Costume Design: Toni Leslie-James
Lighting Design: Ken Billington
Sound Design: Tony Meola
Choreography: A. C. Ciulla
Kennedy Center. Telephone (202) 467 - 4600
opened August 30; closes September 20 to reopen on Broadway
Reviewed by Susan Davidson August 31, 1998
|Footloose is scheduled to open on Broadway, at the Richard Rogers Theatre,
October 22, 1998 with previews beginning October 2. Telephone (212) 307
- 4100; (800) 755 - 4000.
Rehearsals begin, in New York, November 9, for a road company with its tour beginning in Cleveland (home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), December 15, and continuing in 1999, to Green Bay, Wisconsin; Columbus, Ohio; and Nashville, Tennessee.