At the Marriott Theatre
By Dan Zeff
Lincolnshire–-The large and youthful cast gave an enthusiastic performance and the opening night audience at the Marriott Theatre cheered, but all the exuberance on each side of the stage couldn’t turn “Footloose” into a good musical. High energy can’t overcome the woeful book and a so-so score.
“Footloose” opened on Broadway in 1998 as an adaptation of a 1984 movie song-and-dance show. The Broadway production was hammered by the reviewers but still managed to run for 708 performances. This is my third review of the musical and all three have been disheartening.
“Footloose” takes place in a small vaguely Midwestern town called Bomont (691 residents). The population has just increased by two with the arrival of Ethel McCormack and her teenage son Ren, moving from Chicago to the town following their sudden and unexplained abandonment by Ethel’s husband and Ren’s father. In tight financial shape, mother and son move in with a Bomont relative.
Bomont is under the domination of a humorless and dictatorial minister named Shaw Moore who controls the city council and was responsible for the legislation outlawing dancing within the town limits. The audience eventually learns the law was the minister’s response to an auto accident five years earlier that killed four town teenagers, including the minister’s son. They were returning from a dance and the possibility of alcohol or drugs in the car triggered the law banning all dancing locally, a bummer for the town’s young people now trapped in a joyless and intolerant community.
Ren is a city boy and he immediately clashes with the ultra conservative minister. The conflict is flavored by a romantic relationship that develops between Ren and Ariel, the minister’s rebellious daughter, a discipline problem for the father with her sluttish behavior and sexy wearing apparel.
It takes no clairvoyance on the part of the audience to anticipate that after a series of confrontations between Ren and the town’s teenagers and the Moore-led adults, harmony will be installed. The minister see the error of his domineering rule of the town, recognizing he has allowed his anger and grief over the death of his son to turn himself into a moral bully.
The storyline is full of holes but good musicals have survived lame books to serve up an entertaining evenings with a strong score and high stepping choreography. The “Footloose” score, cobbled together from a half dozen sources, is no more than routine, the exception being a lively number called “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” that became a minor hit and inspired one of the show’s few above average production numbers.
Director Gary Griffin has compiled a four-star resume of musical productions in Chicagoland and elsewhere but he hasn’t been able to turn the show’s dross into gold. The Marriott in-the-round stage restricts the opportunity for spectacle in the staging, so Griffin had to rely on the score plus the choreography by William Carlos Angulo, which only struck sparks in a couple of scenes, too few to rescue the show from its glum book.
“Footloose” may attract a young audience with its us-versus-them conflict between young people who just want to have fun and adults who look with horror and fear at the baleful influence of rock ‘n’ roll on the younger generation. But it would be difficult today to make a case for rock music as the music of young folks under siege from a stuffy and intolerant older generation. The book is not only porous, it’s dated.
The Marriott production employs a cast of two dozen performers, including several A-list stars of the Chicagoland musical theater, like Heidi Kettenring, Johanna McKenzie Miller, James Rank, and Nancy Voigts. Kettenring has a small role as Ren’s mother but she glows every minute she’s on stage. Near the end of the play, Ren finally convinces the minister and the city council to revoke the dance ban (a turn around that lacks believability). Kettenring’s mother bursts into tears of joy when the dance ban rescinding is announced by the minister, a magical moment of genuine emotion that probably was missed by most spectators with their attention directed elsewhere on the stage. It was the most dramatically creditable moment in the show and proves again that there are no small roles for great performers.
Aidan Wharton is very good as Ren. He maybe could have added a little more rebel edge to his character (Kevin Bacon played the role in the 1984 movie) but Wharton makes a three dimensional person out of the lad and his singing and dancing are first rate. As Ariel, Lucy Godinez sells Ariel’s frustration and confusion over her father’s tyranny and she has a strong belting voice, as does Ariel’s best friend Rusty (Monica Ramirez). Jim Stanek does what he can with the difficult role of the minister, actually injecting some humanity into a cardboard character. The entire chorus makes the most of their limited opportunities to light up the stage with their dancing.
The scene stealer of the evening is Ben Barker as Willard Hewitt, who turns a stereotype hayseed teenager into a continual pleasure with his comedy, singing, and dancing. Barker has the makings of a first fate Jim Nabors or Andy Griffith in him.
The basic set was designed by Scott Davis. Anna Wooden designed the costumes, Jesse Klug the lighting, and Robert E. Gilmartin the sound design. Patti Garwood conducted the always proficient Marriott pit orchestra.
If the Marriott management was seeking a vehicle to attract a young audience, there are better choices out there than “Footloose,” with its out-of-date and hard-to-believe storyline and run of the mill score. The Marriott revival has the performing talent to do better with a better show. Still, the opening night crowd roared their approval. I wish I had seen the show they seemed to enjoy so much.
The show gets a rating of.
“Footloose” runs through June 2 at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive. Performances are Wednesday at 1 and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 4 an d 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1 and 5 p.m. Tickets are $50 to $60. Call 847 634 0200 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.
Contact Dan at ZeffDaniel@yahoo.com. April 2019
Like Dan on Facebook. Become a Friend!!!
Follow Dan on Twitter: