Kick off your Sunday shoes
Sacramento, CA 95818
Let’s be clear about this: Footloose may seem pretty lightweight, but as musicals go, it’s got all the elements. Start with a simple conflict: Boy’s gotta dance, but dancing is banned in the little hick town of Bomont. Complicate with love story: Boy’s got a thing for (sorta) bad girl. Further complication: (Sorta) bad girl’s dad is the town minister. Still more complication: A back story involving a tragic, post-dance car crash that killed said town minister’s son and (sorta) bad girl’s brother.
It was just barely enough of a plot to keep the film version of Footloose running, but then, Kevin Bacon’s charm as Ren went a long way—as did some outstanding pop tunes and some adequate dancing. It was also helped by an outstanding performance by John Lithgow as the emotionally wounded and repressed town minister.
Runaway Stage takes advantage of several of those same factors to put together a toe-tapping production of the stage version of Footloose. The pop songs still resonate (and singing along is encouraged during the grand finale, as is dancing), and Joseph Boyette’s earnest and energetic performance as Ren, a good kid in dancing shoes and a leather jacket, hits the mark in every way. Boyette’s Ren is a charmer, but without a trace of dishonesty or smarminess. And, while John Hopkins’ portrayal of the Reverend Shaw Moore is not nearly as filled with righteous certitude as was Lithgow’s, it actually works better that way. Hopkin’s minister isn’t a rabid right-winger; he’s a wounded father, which means the conflict and complications can be resolved without resorting to black-and-white, heroes-and-villains thinking.
But where Runaway Stage really cuts loose with Footloose and kicks it sky high is the dancing. This is some serious hoofing here (and the use of a farm-related metaphor is appropriate when there are as many pairs of cowboy boots hitting the boards as this production calls for). Beyond Boyette’s exuberance, the ensemble’s dancing, choreographed by Darryl Strohl, practically steals every scene they’re in. Especially fun is the “learning to dance sequence,” set in a nearby town’s cowboy club. The two-song scene shows off the dancing skills of Ben Herrera (who plays Willard) in the most difficult way of all: by forcing him to act like he doesn’t know how to dance.
Noteworthy vocals come from Herrera with “Mama Says (You Can’t Back Down)” and Kate Richardson as Rusty, who turns “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” from a pop tune to a wailing, pride-filled anthem to nerd love. The other voices are well cast, though as the preacher’s daughter with a wild streak, Amy Jacques-Jones (Ariel) seemed to be struggling to find her voice a couple of times.
There are the usual technical complaints (a couple of instances of mic feedback and a few lighting glitches), but these were overcome gracefully. As the production made full use of the house orchestra, directed by Christopher Cook, and the dancing talents of the performers, it was easy to forget the glitches and concentrate on the important stuff: Rain’s gotta fall, sun’s gotta shine, kids gotta dance. In this case, when they kick off their Sunday shoes, oh, geez, Louise, it’s worth watching.