Mitchell Lewis & Company in Footloose. Photo: DDP


Book by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie
Based on the Original Screenplay by Dean Pitchford
Music by Tom Snow,  lyrics by Dean Pitchford
Additional Music by Eric Carmen, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins, and Jim Steinman
Directed by Lee Buckholz

A review by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents are copyright © 2024, by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

It’s become increasingly popular in the last couple of decades to turn classic movies into stage musicals. Sometimes with success, sometimes not. The results have run the gamut of good (Hairspray), bad (Eating Raoul), and undeservedly maligned (Carrie), but the general rule of thumb is the original movie is always better.

But occasionally a musical can improve on its cinematic source material, and a fine example of that is Footloose, currently running at Derby Dinner Playhouse. The original 1984 film is a genuine classic, but I always found the plot overly melodramatic and requires too much suspension of disbelief from its audience. However, melodrama and suspension of disbelief are the bread and butter of a good musical, and in those areas, Footloose does not disappoint.

The show follows the movie’s plot faithfully. Moving in from Chicago, newcomer Ren McCormack (Mitchell Lewis) is in shock when he discovers the small Midwestern town he now calls home has made dancing and rock music illegal. As he struggles to fit in, Ren faces an uphill battle to change things. With the help of his new friend, Willard Hewitt (Andrew Bittenbender), and defiant teen Ariel Moore (Allison Bell), he hopes to loosen up this conservative town. But Ariel’s influential father, Reverend Shaw Moore (Clay Smith), stands in the way.

The show takes the diegetic songs from the film and converts them into true break-into-song moments for the characters, and it works for the most part. While a couple of them seem a little shoe-horned in (Holding Out for a Hero” seems especially guilty of this!), for the most part, it works. Some heartfelt new numbers, especially those sung by the Reverend Moore, nicely advance the plot and give it some real heart. While the song “Mama Says” seems to have wandered in from another show entirely, “Let’s Hear It For the Boy” is the show’s definite showstopper.

Lewis nails the role of Ren, giving the character the swagger and tough edge it requires, but still letting the softer side show through when necessary. It’s hard to believe this is the same performer who gave us the meek, sweet Tobias two shows ago in Sweeney Todd. This young man has range! Smith also gives an emotional turn as the Reverend, breathing life and soul into that most difficult of roles, the sympathetic antagonist. 

Dick Baker is uncharacteristically nasty as Ariel’s bad-boy ex, and it’s fun seeing him play against type. Elizabeth Loos is unusually subdued as the Reverend’s wife, and Bell is a spitfire as her rebellious daughter Ariel. Bittenbender provides the best comedic relief while Katelyn Webb steals every scene she’s in as his love interest Rusty.

Heather Paige Fulsom’s choreography is some of the most energetic I have seen in quite some time, and the cast is more than up to the challenge. Lee Buckholz’s direction keeps things moving and the pacing is crisp. Music director Scott Bradley and his musicians nail the rock element of the music, which is pivotal in this type of production. Finally, Buckholz’s set, Alexa Holloway’s lighting, Ben Wilga’s sound, and Olivia Coxon’s costume designs sell the 1980s setting.

A truly rollicking good time and I daresay more fun than the movie it’s based on, Footloose is perfect for a date night or a family outing. Everybody cut loose!

Featuring Dick Baker, Jillian Prefach Baker, Allison Bell, Andrew Bittenbender, Sara King-Bliss, Matthew Brennan, Chris Bryant, Trent Everett Byers, Marc Christopher, Brittany Carricato Cox, Tonilyn Hussey, Ben Jaeger, Rodijett Jones, Mitchell Lewis, Elizabeth Loos, Nick Lyles, Paul McElroy, Kathleen Meyer, Tony Reimonenq III, Clay Smith, Bobby Steiner, Katelyn Webb, &  Ann McDonald Weible.


April 3 – May 19, 2024

Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, Indiana 47129

Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 25 years. In June 2019 he launched a new company with Jeremy Guiterrez, Theatre Reprise. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.