Chicagoan, Ren McCormack, relocates to the small town of Bomont after his parents separate. His normal teen lifestyle and love of dancing quickly bring him into conflict with the town’s uber conservative adults and the local minister who holds the true power. Adding to the conflict is the fact that Ren is smitten with the Reverend’s wild daughter, Ariel. This is Footloose: The Musical and it is currently playing at Bellevue Little Theatre.
As I said when I reviewed this show earlier this summer, this show truly benefits from the fact that the film’s original scriptwriter, Dean Pitchford, also helped to write the musical. This allowed the movie’s intended story to make a smooth and faithful transition to the stage. Blend it with some original tunes, add some 80s hits, and throw in some energetic and raucous dancing and you’ve got the formula for a pretty good night of theatre and the best show I’ve seen mounted at Bellevue Little Theatre.
Joey Hartshorn provides a pretty deep piece of direction for the production. One of the dominant themes of the show is personal pain and the show’s three leading characters are just buried in their personal woes. This provides a rich field for nuanced and subtle acting and Hartshorn probes those levels to their depths and gets some truly dynamic performances out of her leads. Hartshorn also knows how to have a bit of fun where needed as the kids clown about in the right moments. The staging is wonderful and makes full use of the theatre space (both stage and the theatre).
The ensemble is solid and some excellent supporting performances come from Cynthia Jones who has a quiet strength as Vi Moore, the wife of Rev. Shaw Moore, and serves as his bedrock as he poorly copes with his own pain. Donovan Carr is a base thug as Chuck Cranston and one of my true regrets of the script is that he never gets the comeuppance he’s got coming to him. Madison Becker Is stalwart and loyal as Ariel’s best friend, Rusty. Becker also knows how to be present in a scene and I chuckled at some of her reactions to the goings-on about her. Becker also has a dynamite singing voice shining in “Let’s Hear It For the Boy” and “Somebody’s Eyes”. The only small note I have is that Rusty is supposed to be a motormouth so Becker can speak much faster.
Will Hastreiter dominates as Ren. He’s a touch too old to be playing the teenaged Ren, but summons such youthful energy and angst that one tends to be sucked into the illusion. Hastreiter brings the proper blend of decency and bravado to Ren and well communicates the fact that Ren’s bravado is a defense mechanism to assuage his own unhappiness at having to leave Chicago and his anger at being abandoned by his father. Still, this is a guy who I’d want as a friend as he’d march with you to the gates of hell. Hastreiter has a potent tenor which takes center stage in “I Can’t Stand Still”, “I’m Free”, and raps a bit in “Dancing is Not a Crime”. He is also an impressive hoofer as he flips, slides, and glides around the stage.
Aimee Correa explores every crevice of Ariel’s character. Initially, Ariel comes off as, well, slutty. True, her morals are a little lax, but it’s her defense against the stifling imprisonment of her home life. Ariel is also a poet, intelligent, good-hearted, and just looking to escape from her unhappy life. Correa shows all of these facets and then some at the proper moments. She also has a wonderfully powerful singing voice whether she’s “Holding Out For a Hero”, “Learning to Be Silent”, or thinking her time with Ren is “Almost Paradise”.
Nick Knipe is the show’s breakout performer as Willard. Knipe nearly steals the show as the hot-tempered hick. Knipe’s Willard always seems to be looking for a fight, but he will fight to the death in support of a friend or a just cause. Knipe also has amazing coordination as he is able to fake lack of coordination like a champ when he is attempting to dance for the first time. Knipe also has a real flair for comedy as he shares the unique philosophy of Willard’s mother in “Mama Says”.
Justin Dehmer gives a very complex performance as Rev. Shaw Moore. Something in the Reverend died when 4 teens died in a tragic car accident. That event triggered an intense anger in Moore that manifests as extreme control. Control over the town with morality laws and control over his emotions as he attempts to suppress them. But the anger leaks out in cutting remarks and emotional outbursts. It’s important to remember that Moore isn’t a bad person. He’s wounded and actually motivated to protect the town’s youth. He just goes about it wrong. His realization of this and subsequent confession to his congregation is one of the most beautifully real moments I’ve ever seen acted on stage.
Todd Brooks’ musical direction is very good though the volume of the music needed to be increased at a few points. I loved Dale Hartshorn’s set with the train bridge of the city, the exterior of the Moore home and their dining room, the lockers of the school, and the burger joint. Best of all was the cross shining in center stage as the beacon of hope needed by Bomont. Joey Lorincz’s sounds enhance the show’s moments, especially the roaring train and its whistle that Ariel likes to answer back at the top of her lungs. Jacy Rook’s lights are clean and clear and her use of spotlights really enhance emotional moments. Kerri Jo Richardson-Watts’ choreography is right on the money and the best I’ve seen at BLT especially in the monstrous opening and closing numbers. The costumes of Nancy Buennemeyer and Marya Lucca-Thyberg will take you right back to the 1980s.
This show took a little bit to get going. I could see the nerves going at the top of the show and it felt like the cast was holding back a bit. But, by Act II, the switch had been flipped and the now relaxed performers were tapping the full potential of the show. I’d like to go back again and see that same relaxation in the first act so the show can bask in its full glory.
BLT definitely has a hit on its hands and I would advise you to order tickets, pronto, as last night’s nearly full house makes me think they’re going to be very hard to come by.
Footloose: The Musical plays at Bellevue Little Theatre through Oct 2. Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets cost $25 and can be purchased at the Box Office, at blt.simpletix.com, or calling 402-413-8945. Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.