When the preacher’s daughter Ariel asks herself where all the good men are, you can’t help but notice that she’s, well, attracted to Bad Boys. But never mind that. Ariel’s in front of the mic. Her girlfriends play back-up singers as Ariel belts out a dreamy pop tune.
“I need a hero!” she sings, and out of the mist strut four comic actors—cop, doctor, fireman and G.I. Joe with his shirt hanging open like he’s going to take it off.
The audience laughs and cheers. The ham factor runs high in the Nevada Repertory Company’s production of the stage adaptation of Footloose, directed by Tanya JEan Kluck.
In the 1984 film, Kevin Bacon plays Ren McCormack, a dancing fool whose outrageous proposal to hold a senior dance challenges the deeply religious town of Bomont, Texas’ anti-get-down-and boogie ordinance.
Wow. Can you believe it’s been 20 years? Feels like only nine or 10 days ago that the tentacles of religious oppression were slurking their way into public law-making.
The theater was jam-packed for the Nevada Rep’s Saturday performance. The cast included community favorites like Mark Lorentzen as Ren, the leather-clad Chicago boy who moves with his mom to the tiny, repressed town of Bomont.
Ariel Moore, daughter to the local religious and civic leader Rev. Moore, is played by Jenifer Crenshaw. She impressed me earlier this year as the hilarious singing Kolokolo Bird in the Nevada Rep’s production of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So. Crenshaw and Lorentzen perform well together and their stunning duet, “Almost Paradise,” left me thinking, “Wait, these guys are from Reno, right?”
The part of uptight Rev. Moore, who castigates “this obscene rock-and-roll music with its gospel of easy sexuality,” might seem simple. Clench teeth. Set jaw. Show no emotion but intolerance. Yet under his chilly, sleek surface, grief and anger lurk. The role gives Nevada Rep’s house star Bradford Ka’ai’ai a chance to shine. He stomps out of rooms and turns a cold shoulder to his daughter’s attempts to reach out. Yet the character’s pain never feels far from the surface.
Another well-rounded character is Ariel’s mom, played by Christina Sleigh. In one heart-breaking number, Sleigh and Kimberlee Pechnik (as Ren’s mom) perform a duet “Learning to Be Silent,” delivering brilliant performances as middle-aged females whose ideas and comments feel unwelcome.
Sets are simple and elegant—from the preacher’s kitchen to the Pop Art-style high school locker paintings. A gifted six-member orchestra conducted by Damon Stevens covers pop tunes and provides background music. Colorful costumes—stretch pants, leg warmers and cowboy hats—take me back to the early 80s. Bring on the nostalgia.
Drawback: Few of the cast members appear to have much dance experience, but hey. They’re playing teens from Bomont—where dancing is illegal. What’dya expect? Fred Astaire? Michael Jackson?
Then again. Donald Pettit, playing Willard “I Can’t Dance” Hewitt, fiddles hopelessly around the stage during a country line-dance number until, finally—to the immense joy of the audience—he busts out his Jackson moves. Pettit is hilarious as Willard, a loveable, fight-picking country bumpkin who befriends Ren. Pettit’s solo number, “Mama Says,” is a hoot. And when his rebel friend says he’s having a hard time fitting in, Willard lets him know that it’s because his appearance spells trouble, “T-R-U-B-L.”
The moral of the story comes out in a song near the end where Ren uses biblical references to argue for the right to dance, rhyming "nasties" with "Ecclesiastes" and such. Nice touch.