OREM — Footloose, the stage adaptation with a script by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie, lyrics by Pitchford, and music by Tom Snow, is always a good show choice when for companies with a lot of talented young people to work with. The SCERA Shell Theatre definitely has a good talent pool to pull from, so I had high hopes for their production of Footloose, directed by Jeremy Showgren and choreographed by Tyne Valgardson Crockett. Perhaps too high. The production was not bad, but I had a hard time connecting with it.
Footloose follows the story of Ren McCormick, a Chicago boy transplanted into the small rural town of Bomont. Ren is continually frustrated by the restrictions of small town life. He learns that, following a tragic car accident that killed four Bomont teenagers, dancing has become a criminal offense in town. Ren, along with the Reverend Shaw’s daughter, Ariel, and several other teenage friends take on the city council to have the anti-dancing law revoked.
When I think of Footloose, I think of crazy dancing, teen rebellion, self discovery, and high energy. I felt like this particular production had some good dancing, but the general energy of the show was not high enough, and the chemistry between characters was weak. I especially wanted to see more tension between Reverend Shaw Moore (played Garrett Smit) and Ariel (played by Kelsea Kocherhans). This father/daughter relationship was not as strained as it should be on stage. Ariel wears red boots because they drive her father crazy. She is dating Chuck Cranston (played by Justin Delong) as an act of rebellion. However, in this production Shaw seemed more apathetic than concerned or frustrated.
Although teenagers are often overly dramatic, but Ren, played by Jake Thompson, was too melodramatic in this production. For example, when Reverend Shaw makes a comment to him, and Ren pantomimes a knife stabbing him in the heart, as suggested in the script. However, Thompson’s interpretation was overly long and drawn out which killed the joke for me. There were also several times when Ren dropped to the ground when something didn’t work out the way he wanted, which made me feel like I was watching a toddler throw a tantrum. Most teenage boys wouldn’t do that, especially when they are new in town. Too often Ren was a flat character in this production because Thompson was more focused on the easy laugh then creating character depth. However, Thompson did do a solid job of singing and dancing. I especially enjoyed how well his voice blended with Kocherhans during “Almost Paradise.”
I wish everyone on stage could have the energy and stage presence found in Ellie Gallagher‘s performance as Betty Blast. Although a minor character, Gallagher stood out in her first appearance leading the church choir, and Betty became the most interesting thing in that church. She was also great fun in her little scene with Ren at the Burger Blast. I also enjoyed Wendy Jo, played by Ellen Williams. She was the perfect blend of a girl comfortable in her own skin, but still trying to fit in.
Another favorite character was Willard Hewitt, played by McKay Elwood. Willard is the classic gangly hick teenager. He acts tough and is always ready for a fight. He’s loyal to his mama and is frequently quoting her advice. My favorite song in this musical is “Mama Says,” and Elwood did a fantastic all around job with his performance of the song, making it one of my favorite moments of the night. Another highlight centered around Willard learning to dance during “Let’s Hear It For The Boy!” It seemed that this number was a cast favorite because everyone came to life more during it than during the entire first act. McKenna Hixson, who played Rusty, did a steller job with this number. “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” requires a large vocal range, and Hixon nailed the song, from the low notes to the ending high notes.
The technical aspects of this production were solid. For the first time, I felt that the sound levels for opening night at the SCERA Shell were perfect. I could hear all of the performers and it wasn’t too loud, as is often the case. The set for this production was a unit set designed by Nat Reed. It had a warehouse feel with lots of open space and panels of square windows. Platforms helped fill the space and provide levels for the actors and dancers. The set was accented by doors and props that moved into to create smaller vignetted scenes, such as the Shaw home and the Burger Blast. As the night grew darker I was able to better appreciate the lighting design by Elizabeth Griffiths. The panels of square windows were lit with different colors to create a variety of moods.
More color was brought on stage by the costumes designed by Kelsey Seaver. Neon colors were found in most of the ensemble’s costumes while, but not in principle characters’ costumes. I appreciated the choice to put Ren in red sneakers to match Ariel’s red boots. This choice also helped me find Ren during large dancing scenes. There were a few things that I didn’t love about some of the costumes, such as how Ren’s and Willard’s pants fit them. Ren’s seemed overly big and Willard’s were cinched too much in front which caused awkward puckering. Also, can people quit tucking their pants into their cowboy boots while portraying small rural townspeople? Only city slickers trying to be cowboys do that.
Overall, this was not my favorite production of Footloose. There were plenty of talented people on stage, but it felt like a bunch of individuals instead of a united cast. The energy levels were low, and the pacing was slow. Perhaps it was just a rough opening night. I could tell that each individual had worked hard on their solos and dancing. Hopefully, future performances click into place with the chemistry and pacing, but once those two things click this will be a solid production that really showcases the talents of those involved.