SALT LAKE CITY — I caught the dancing bug when I saw my first production of Footloose. As an energetic enthusiastic young teenager I loved to perform and was thrilled when we went down to the Tuachann theatre in St. George to see Aida a several years ago. Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate, and we were refunded our tickets to come back and see another show. My stepdad and I returned a few weeks later to catch the one of the last performances of their summer line up: Footloose. From the minute the curtain rose I instantly fell in love with the up-tempo score and fun high energy dance numbers. The Sandy Arts Guild production of this family fun show is sure to appease most average theatregoers, but may be a letdown for footloose fans or musical theatre buffs.
Footloose the musical with music by Tom Snow, lyrics by Dean Pitchford and a book by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie based on the 1984 beloved movie, tells the story of a young man and his mother as they move from the bustling city of Chicago to the podunk small farming town of Bomont. Ren struggles to fit in and can’t believe that the town has a strict archaic law that forbids dancing of any kind. Meanwhile the moral pillar of the town, preacher Reverend Shaw, seeks to guide the town in the right direction, yet he is unable to parent his daughter Ariel in the right way.
Overall, Footloose at Sandy City Amphitheater strives to be fun family entertainment and is mostly successful. Director Bruce Craven’s two major successes of the production include the solidly talented trio of best friends to Ariel (Rusty, Wendy Jo, and Urleen), as well as his supervision of the well designed set. Craven was also successful in creating “Somebody’s Eyes” in which the girls sing about how there is always someone watching everything Ren does. With vocals that rival many semi-professionals, the voice of Ali Wood (who plays Rusty) was commanding as it seemed to envelope the amphitheater is pure musical bliss. He friend Urleen (played by actress Mary Nikols) had a voice to match, which gave the song the jolt of energy it needed. The other friend of the trio, Wendy Jo (played by Allie Duke), was an absolute hoot. Her perfect comedic timing and funny awkwardness, especially around Ren was a joy to watch. Her character provided the perfect dose of funniness to powerhouse trio.
The set is another aspect of Sandy City’s production that worked extremely well. It permitted fast and efficient scene transitions, choreographed interludes between songs, and generally enhanced the talent of the actors, never trying to compete. This was especially evident in the scene where Ren and Ariel are on the train bridge above the water singing “Almost Paradise.” The way that large, almost oversized train bridge flowed into place was perfectly timed and went off without a hitch. I appreciate set designer Dan Simons’s use of large colorful graffiti, which seemed to cover the whole bridge. The pop of color that the graffiti provided worked very well against the dull grey of the main structure of the bridge and was accentuated by appropriate lighting design provided by Cole Adams.
Leads Weston Seiler (who played Ren McCormack) and Keeley Anne McCormick (who played Ariel Shaw) gave a commendable performance. Their chemistry on stage usually seemed natural and their voices were a very good compliment to each other as evident in the song “Almost Paradise,” where the range and talent of both shown through in the sweet love song. However. one of the things that was off about Ren was actor Seiler’s apparent older age. Seiler seemed to be in his mid-twenties, so it was obvious he was too old to be portraying the young Ren. To make matters worse, his costume in the first high school scene (where he sports a polo, rolled jeans, loafers, and a white sweater draped over his back and tied in the front) made him look more like a mid-forties wealthy bachelor enjoying a sunny round of golf rather then Ren, the dancing rebel rousing teen.
The ensemble’s energy was mostly hit and miss, with many numbers coming off rather weak in both choreography and singing. I attribute this to the rather well intentioned, but poorly thought our choreography in which the movement of the cast seemed to be opposing the feel of the music. This was especially evident in the piece “Holding Out For A Hero” in which flowing arms and gentle subtle movements worked against the uptempo and rapid orchestration. Another example where the music and movement didn’t excel was the song “I’m Free/Heaven Help Me” in which Ren convinces the young people of Bomont to stand up and work to change the law against dancing. While Ren seemed to be holding back vocally. Moreover, the lack of pep in the orchestra added to the lax feeling of the number. I wish music director Brian Manternach had worked more on this song; the ensemble’s vocal projection was so soft I had trouble hearing it from the seventh row to the stage, and can’t imagine being able to hear it from the back of the auidence.
However, these things didn’t create a terrible production, but rather were a few missteps along the way of the show. Many typical theatre goers and families will be able to forgive and forget these problems as they kick off their Sunday shoes and “cut loose” to enjoy a fun night of family theatre. However, for avid theatre lovers and Footloose fans, the show may leave a bit to be desired.