August Anderson in Footloose. Photo: RPA
Music by Tom Snow, lyrics by Dean Pitchford
Book by Dean Pitchford & Walter Bobbie
Based on the film written by Dean Pitchford
Directed by Alonzo Ramont
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
When it premiered on Broadway in 1998, Footloose received mixed reviews but had a fair run of 709 performances. Part jukebox musical, part new songs, and all 1980s nostalgia, it is an easy musical to love if you don’t examine it too closely.
That my enthusiasm is tempered may be generational; I was older than the crowd that warmed so much to the original film starring Kevin Bacon, although it featured two worthwhile performances from John Lithgow and a then-unknown Dianne Wiest and I remember it well.
But I never considered 80s Pop my thing. So why was I tapping my foot to, “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” and Holding Out For A Hero”? These songs were never on my hit parade, yet hearing them come to life on stage here was undeniably fun.
To many, the plot seems improbable, but Dean Pitchford’s original screenplay was based on actual events: The Southern Baptist town of Elmore City, Oklahoma had a strict dance ban in place from 1868 until 1980. The local high school students campaigned to get the ban lifted so that they could hold a senior prom and won their case, even against a lot of opposition.
Pitchford adds Ren McCormack (Joseph Glaser) a Chicago teenager relocated to Bomont, a small town in the Western states. The rich culture of a Metropolitan city is missing, and dancing has been banned after a tragic accident and the deaths of four teenagers, one of which was the son of the influential Baptist minister Shaw Moore (Derrick Palmer), who holds enough sway to be something of a dictator. His rebellious daughter, Ariel (August Anderson) is dating the town bad-ass (“The Girl Gets Around) but inevitably is in a romance with Ren.
Of course, this is already more synopsis than this show requires. It is faithful to the movie so there are no surprises, and the story is as silly, contrived, and cliched as ever, but the appeal is in the music and the performance. The score is a mix of classics used in the movie, “Let’s Hear It For The Boy”, “Holding Out For A Hero”, “Almost Paradise”, and the title tune, of course, and a handful of new songs that are pretty good and contribute to the story.
The cast does good work despite our familiarity with the story. There is such bold energy and good spirits. Joseph Glaser has fun as Ren, although glitches in his body mic made it difficult to appraise his singing, and Bryson Sands appears to also be having a blast as Willard, the first classmate to befriend Ren. August Anderson is a firecracker as Ariel, easily charismatic and dancing and singing like a pro Speaking of pros, Derrick Palmer is always an anchor onstage, a grounded actor with a strong voice.
The rest of the ensemble is equally sure, but Meghan Voigt’s big number was undermined by her mic dropping out so I couldn’t really hear the quality of her singing. She looked like a star. As always with a Redline show, there was no fooling around with the dance, here choreographed by Maggie Patten. The leads were solid but there were a few spotlight dancers who showed for some fancier steps, and when the stage was filled with the entire cast the loose uniformity was infectious and joyful.
That infectious aspect is always a characteristic of Redline productions. As I said before, Footloose is a slight story, a lightweight narrative that exists to offer several terrific songs and a framework for a lot of talent to express itself – show off, if you will – to an eager audience.
As a venue, Christy’s Garden must be seen as a welcome addition, another option in what is always cited as a paucity of performance spaces in Louisville. Mostly covered – the sounds of trains crossing a trestle close by were not as intrusive as I would imagine, and with an adjoining restaurant serving throughout the evening, it was pretty cool. Yet I feel outdoor venues often drain the energy and impact of musicals. Big production numbers can play, but smaller moments get lost or diluted. The RPA crew did a good job of ameliorating these issues, but I cannot help but feel the outdoor space keeps all of the good work behind this production from being all that it could be.
Featuring Joseph Glaser, Derrick Palmer, August Anderson, Stephanie Collins, Bryson Sands, Meghan Voigt, Heaven Williams, Eden Gilbert, Evan Kerr, Kym Vaughn, Josh Tierney, Devin Duddy, Arcana Martinez-Gray, Bradley Powell, Cajani Hurd, Javon Vanlier, Josh Blauduff, Rebecca Worthington, Salema Jenkins, Sydney Walters, Bella Bpard, Charlie Raymer, Collette Priddy, KJ Kerr, Mayalya Ancrum, Marie Shenk, Shauntrice Wilson, & Sheree Edmunds
August 4 & 5, 2023
Redline Performing Arts
Louisville, KY 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of Artists Talk with LVA on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.