Regional Reviews: Phoenix
High school student Ren McCormack and his mother have just moved to the small town of Bomont from Chicago after Ren's father deserted them. They've moved in with Ren's aunt and uncle and Ren quickly realizes that his Chicago style and way of doing things clash with the small town's rules, specifically one enforced by the local minister Reverend Moore that bans dancing and rock music due to their negative influences on the children in town. Of course when Ren falls for the minister's daughter Ariel it only makes matters worse, especially since Ren's outgoing personality is seen as a big negative influence. Ren sets out to discover the truth behind the town's ban on dancing and to find a way to bridge the gap between himself and the ultra-conservative Moore.
While the film wasn't an actual musical, since none of the characters sang any of the songs, in 1998 the movie was adapted into a Broadway musical featuring many of the tunes from the film soundtrack along with additional ones written by Tom Snow and Dean Pitchford, who both had written songs for the movie. The classic radio hits "I Need a Hero," "Let's Hear it For the Boy," "I'm Free," and the title song are seamlessly incorporated by bookwriters Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie who crafted a script that swiftly follows the basic plot points of the film. It isn't a perfect show, since some of the pop movie songs are jammed into the plot and not all of the lyrics from the film soundtrack songs fit naturally with the characters voices.
Director Suze St. John has done a very good job at not only finding a young, talented cast to play the high school characters but also in casting a good group of adults, especially Mark Hackmann and Meaghan Katz, who play Ariel's parents, and Angela Kabasan Gonzalez who plays Ren's mom Ethel. All three deliver nuanced performances full of emotion. Hackmann does a very good job to instill some sympathy, compassion and understanding into the part of the frustrated and conflicted Revered. He commands the stage, especially with his emotional solo in act two. Katz and Gonzalez have rich voices that deliver a stirring "Learning to Be Silent" which they share with Greta Perlmutter, who plays Ariel. Katz's second act solo, "Can You Find It In Your Heart?," is exceptionally sung.
As Ren and Ariel, Nathan Taylor and Perlmutter do well. Taylor brings the right amount of energy to the young man who "can't sit still" and Perlmutter is quite effective as the teenage girl who is simply trying to find her place in life and acts out and disobeys her parents every chance she can gets. While they both deliver natural characters, the relationship between the two of them comes across more as a good friendship than a romantic relationship full of burning. Taylor does well in the several confrontational scenes Ren, especially in the one he has with Hackmann in the second act. As Rusty and Willard, Ariel and Ren's friends who have a budding romance of their own, Harley Barton and Quincy Jackson are full of charm. Barton's singing voice is excellent and Jackson is quite good as the endearing, slow-witted, but exceedingly likable Willard.
St. John's fun, varied and upbeat choreography is well danced by the large ensemble and she also designed the set, which, while minimal, works well. She includes a few fun original directorial elements which add some moments of surprise for those who have seen this musical produced elsewhere. Musical director CJ O'Hara has done exceptional work that achieves beautiful harmonies from the large ensemble and an explosive, superb sound from the six-piece band. Cae Collmar's costume designs are character and location specific, with plenty of plaids and western wear, and Misty West's lighting delivers some beautiful images on the large Mesa Arts Center stage.
While Footloose is not a perfect musical it has interesting characters, a large number of familiar hit pop songs from the film, and plenty of dancing. Even with the slightly unpassionate relationship between the two leads, MET's production has a good cast, especially Hackmann, Katz, and Gonzalez, fun choreography, and firm direction and results in an upbeat, crowd pleaser of a show.
Footloose runs at Mesa Encore Theatre through September 25th, 2016, with performances at the Mesa Arts Center at 1 East Main Street in Mesa. Tickets can be ordered by calling (480) 644-6500 or at mesaencoretheatre.com.
Director/ Choreographer/ Set designer: Suze St. John