When “Footloose” became a Broadway musical in 1998, 14 years after the release of the Kevin Bacon-starring film, it quickly became apparent that it was a seamless fit for the stage. Written by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie, with music/lyrics by Pitchford, Kenny Loggins, and many more, the musical is an energetic show teeming with impassioned footwork, comedy, and even well-meaning drama. The premise – about a cultured, Chicagoan high-schooler named Ren McCormack, who, with his mother, Ethel, moves to a middle-of-nowhere town called Bomont that has forbid dancing – is surprisingly rife with compelling revelations.
In fact, the two central characters in “Footloose” – McCormack and Bomont’s Reverend Shaw Moore – mirror each other in their motivations to be accepted despite wanting very different outcomes. McCormack, who befriends many of Bomont’s interesting citizens, and even falls for the Reverend’s aspirational daughter, Ariel, is the outsider who tries to lead a pro-dancing charge against the Reverend, who opposes it. This polar dynamic drives the plot, and is the main reason why the Glendale Centre Theatre production of “Footloose,” which will run through October 7th, is so satisfying to watch.
Produced by Tim Dietlein and directed by Martin Lang, “Footloose” is an immersive experience for its 400 max-capacity attendees inside the in-the-round and 70-year-long-running Glendale Centre Theatre. The spirited dancing is attention-grabbing and invigorating, which is a credit to choreographer Leigh Wakeford. The quality of the singing, too, much of which can be ascribed to the musical direction of Lang and Steven Applegate, oftentimes occurs within the context of non-stop action on stage, though does not become weary-sounding at any point, and instead grows all the more resonant and powerful. This is particularly true during ensemble numbers like “I’m Free/Heaven Help Me,” “Let’s Hear it for the Boy,” and, of course, the title song, “Footloose.”
Undoubtedly, the cast of performers all do a phenomenal job of playing their individual parts very well, while having an eye for their fellow actors to ensure that their collective message comes across just as favorably. Chaz Feuerstine, who plays Ren, is like an on-stage quarterback or point guard, leading by example with his superb dance skills. For instance, during “I Can’t Stand Still,” Feuerstine does a very complicated solo dance routine, and even performs the splits toward the end of it. He sings very clearly, mustering impressive high notes, as his tenor voice never falters nor is out of breath. With regard to his acting, Feuerstine is just as proficient, as he makes the appropriate choice to introduce Ren with a carefree sensibility, before allowing his character to become more invested and sincere. This is evidenced by Feuerstine’s effectiveness in conveying Ren’s weighty appeal to the town council, and in the poignant heart to heart with Reverend Moore in the penultimate scene.
George Champion gives a tremendously heartfelt performance as Reverend Moore. And, in truth, it is Champion’s portrayal of Moore that gives the musical the substantive weight that it needs, supported by the stakes of the conflict of whether or not dancing is reinstated as a social activity. Yet, when delved deeper, it’s much more than that – it is Moore’s struggle, as a father, husband, and a preacher, to find his place in the world with not only his daughter Ariel and wife Vi, but make amends with a past that he has repressed to the detriment of his own peace of mind. Champion’s genuineness in the role shines through like a beacon that captures the human condition extraordinarily well, as in when he is expertly emoting Moore’s conflicted state of mind or heart-wrenchingly singing “Heaven Help Me.” Ultimately, it is Champion’s total commitment to the transformational arc of his character that directly and indirectly benefits how rousing the story of “Footloose” really is.
As the lead female, Jana Souza is terrific as Ariel Moore – the rebelliously determined daughter of the Reverend, who, at the end of the day, recognizes right from wrong and has a bigger heart than she leads on. Ariel has more or less practiced how to bite her tongue and not reveal her true feelings to the men around her, a sentiment which is shared by her mother Vi (Tracy Ray Reynolds) and Ren’s mother, Ethel (Christa Hamilton) during “Learning to be Silent.” And, it’s important to mention that both Reynolds and Hamilton add a significant amount of dignity and gravitas with their very respectable portrayals.
In addition, like her character’s father, Souza embraces the shift that her persona makes – from Ariel’s initial recalcitrance and dalliance with insensitive “bad boy” Chuck Cranston (played by the talented Shay Thomas Gibson, who makes a great antagonist), which is best highlighted by “The Girl Gets Around,” to falling in love with Ren, which is underscored via the ballad “Almost Paradise” in the middle of Act II. Souza also has a soaring singing voice that resounds with flair, and enlivens the listener. The most fitting example of this is with the renowned pop song, “Holding out for a Hero,” when Souza, along with her character’s best friends – Wendy Jo (Linda Neel), Urleen (Tracey Thomas) and Rusty (Evy Moody) – perform an electrifying number on and around cafeteria tables.
Rusty is an especially notable character whose winsome awkwardness is only matched by Willard Hewitt (John McGavin). The two characters suitably share an infatuation for each other in a romance that is adorable and adds a welcome levity to balance out some of the dramatic tension of the show. Moody brings a great deal of uniqueness and pleasantness to the role of Rusty, who excels as an underdog character. At the top of Act II, Rusty’s coming-into-her-own moment is triumphant when she sings “Let’s Hear it for the Boy,” and Moody makes sure to punctuate the scene with her resounding soprano vocals that contribute to the song (and country-line dance number) being one of the most memorable parts of the musical.
Furthermore, McGavin is absolutely stellar as Willard – the slack-jawed country boy who makes up for what he lacks in wit with big-hearted courage that wins over the audience, which can’t help but smile from ear to ear. McGavin infuses Willard with a comic timing and charm that is off the charts, and is so believable that we are completely in the palm of his hands when he is dancing out of his mind, or performing the show-stealing “Mama Says (You Can’t Back Down)” – an ode to his character’s mother, whose uproarious advice can inspire anyone to do anything.
Lastly, as in any ensemble-heavy production, there are standout performances that belie their peripheral nature. These include David Gallic, whose gritty rock voice as Cowboy Bob perfectly sets the tone for Act II; Kyle Kelley (Coach Roger Dunbar), who fulfills every expectation one might have of an obstinate P.E. teacher; Bre Harris, who engagingly improvises a little prayer before the Bomont town council decides on the fate of dancing; and Meghan Jones, who makes us laugh out loud as the delightfully idiosyncratic Betty Blast. Suffice it to say, Glendale Centre Theatre’s production of “Footloose” earns the highest recommendation, as it is an enthralling, infectious, and vivacious show that both entertains us and teaches us to examine ourselves inwardly from time to time, so that we can better understand ourselves and the people whom we love and interact with.
For more information on how to purchase tickets to “Footloose” at the Glendale Centre Theatre, please visit glendalecentretheatre.com/shows/footloose