Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Also see John's review of I Love a Piano
Footloose is the story of Ren McCormack (James Giordano) a city boy from Chicago suddenly transplanted into the small rural town of Bomont, after he and his mother (Sharyn Peoples) are abandoned by his father. As the rebellious outsider, Ren is drawn to an equally rebellious minister's daughter named Ariel Moore (Emily Tarallo). Ariel acts out against her father's strict wishes, anxious for the day she can leave her closed-minded home town of Bomont. Upon Ren's arrival, the entire community is still mired in grief over the loss of four of its youths in a car accident that happened four years prior. It is an accident that occurred on the way back from a dance, and in responding to the deaths, the town, led by the Reverend Shaw Moore (James Skiba), has actually outlawed all dancing. Ren, who can neither stand still physically or emotionally, takes up the charge to change the no-dancing law.
With the passage of years since it was first written, the story-line itself seems a bit naïve, and some of the characters trite. The musical stands on a score filled with chart-topping hits from the time period in which it was written, and a sense of nostalgia for the hit film upon which it is based.
Decades ago when Footloose appeared on the big screen, teenagers everywhere went crazy for newcomer Kevin Bacon as Ren, and the film established him as a young star to be reckoned with. Had that film contained Florida actress Emily Tarallo as love interest Ariel, a very different star would have emerged. Tarallo undeniably steals the show with her charisma and talent in this Marquee Theater production of Footloose - The Musical. From the beginning of the song "The Girl Gets Around", it is clear that she has complete control of how to use the stage and her body in order to sell both the song and the character she is playing. Tarallo has shown in other local productions that she is a gifted dancer, but this is the first in which audiences have been able to see her marry her dancing and acting talents in a way that is so character defining. Though her singing abilities are not as strong as her dancing or acting, this is a role seemingly made just for her.
Surely part of Tarallo's success is to be attributed to the intelligent choreography of choreographer and Marquee Vice-President Ben Solmor. In song after song he uses his cast in an active and visually pleasing blend of contemporary and period dance styles. Despite the tender age of some of the ensemble (some still in high-school) and/or a lack of similar previous professional experience, some are obviously experienced, studio trained dancers; and it shows. It is a blessing to see the ample stage of the West Boca Performing Arts Theater graced with a choreographer and dancers that know how to use the space with style and technique.
While the charm of Emily Tarallo is enough to propel the story-line and the energy of the show, James Giordano as her leading man Ren, falls short of capturing that same charm. He has the right look, a certain level of confidence, and a nice singing voice, but lacks the edge and the sense of urgency behind his inner turmoil and teenaged angst to truly do justice to this role. It felt more like Ren was just having a bad week than it was a pivotal or cathartic moment for the character.
Del Marrero as Rusty, Gianina Mugavero as Urleen, and Lauren Didato as Wendy Jo sing well individually and as a trio, as they dance their way in and out of songs like a modern Greek chorus. A stronger sense of the differences between their individual characters would have been perfection. Rusty (Marrero) is partnered with love interest Willard Hewitt played by Andrew Schultz. Though there is no chemistry between the two, Schultz (Marquee Theater President and Director) captures a quirky, nerdish quality to his character that is appealing. He shows both a good singing voice and good comic choices in his song "Mama Says".
James Skiba admirably captures the narrow-minded and emotionally conflicted preacher, Reverend Shaw Moore. He nails the aspect of Shaw that leaves the character so stuck in preacher mode that he is unable to be as present as a father and husband as he should be. He is well partnered with Francine Burns as his patient, long-suffering wife Vi. Burns and Sharyn Peoples, as Ren's mother Ethel, don't get enough stage time for my taste, but do share a heart-felt performance of the duet "Learning To Be Silent".
A few smaller roles provide interest to the show such as Ariel's dangerous, drug-pusher boyfriend Chuck Cranston played by Ryan Crout, and a seriously comic cameo appearance by Nicole Minardi as Betty Blast. Though the show is performed with musical tracks rather than live musicians, the quality of the tracks, and blend of sound was spot on. Scenic and costume design evoke the feeling of the time period without being overly elaborate, and avoid being cliché. Though this is not my favorite of Marquee's work, it shows the strongest direction that Schultz has done do far, and the strongest choreography that Solmor has done as well. That alone deserves congratulations, but it is still the stellar performance of Emily Tarallo as Ariel that warrants the most accolades in this production of Footloose - The Musical.
This Marquee Theater production of Footloose will be appearing through May 8, 2016 at the West Boca Performing Arts Theater. Mainstage productions are housed in the West Boca Performing Arts Theater at 12811 Glades Rd. in Boca Raton FL, and Black-Box productions are housed in the Next Level Performing Arts Black-Box at 7533 N. St. Rd. 7 in Parkland FL. For tickets and information, you may contact them by phone at 954-464-8249 or online at www.marqueetheatercompany.com.