OGDEN — The latest production at the Ziegfeld in Ogden is the 1998 musical Footloose, based on the 1984 film of the same name. The story follows a small conservative town that has outlawed dancing after a tragic accident, and the upheaval that happens when a young man moves in to the town and tries to shake things up.
The music has traces of familiarity to anyone who has seen the original movie or listened to the radio at anytime in the 1980s. In addition to the familiar music, the stage version features additional songs have been added by Tom Snow, Dean Pitchford, and Kenny Loggins. The book of the musical is written by Pitchford and Walter Bobbie. The Ziegfeld has made a delightful tribute to the time period of the show by holding an ’80s prom opening night gala, with food and music and opportunities for pictures.
The Ziegfeld production is directed by Dee Tua’One, who was also in charge of the costuming. Because the production is set in the 80s the costuming was representative of the time period, though some of the individual choices in costumes seemed more fitting than others.
The production had many strong points, including the choreography by Kacee Neff. For example, in the song “Holding Out for A Hero,” Neff had incorporated the set with the choreography in a very interesting way. The choreography was also strong in the opening and closing numbers, with the entire cast enthusiastically participating. The choices of staging, with the musicians on stage, and use of risers and platforms to extend the space on the stage was also visually appealing. While I enjoy the energy and enthusiasm, some chorus members upstaged the leading actors, and I encourage the cast to become more cohesive in their group performances.
Zeigfeld newcomer Aathaven Tharmarajah played the leading role of Ren. Tharmarajah has an excellent singing voice and charismatic smile that fit the character quite well. He also utilized his dancing skills and Neff’s choreography well to tell the story of a young man who loves to dance to let off steam. Partnered with Shelby Hovley in the role of Ariel, Tharmarajah and Hovley make a good team of angsty teenagers trying to navigate being themselves and also loving and listening to their parents.
As the supporting characters of Willard and Rusty, Porter Birchum and Emily Woods stole the evening. The songs “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” and “Mama Says” were the highlights of the evening, and I found myself hoping for more stage time for the characters. Madsen was also a delight as Ariel’s mother, Vi, trying to balance mothering a teenager, being a wife of a struggling preacher, and dealing with her own loss. I enjoyed each time she sang or spoke and felt a strong connection to her characterization. Paul Nileson, as Reverend Moore, was fltter in his performance, and this was particularly noticeable in comparison to the strength of Madsen.
One aspect that seemed to plague the production was the sound; in the first act, the microphones and speakers had a lot of mishaps and challenges. The live music, which was wonderful, was sometimes louder than the actors, and two of the actresses lost microphone functioning completely. However, both of these actresses, Carol Madsen (in the role of Vi Moore) and Emily Woods (playing Rusty) worked hard to overcome this issue. I was very impressed with many of the cast members and how they handled the sound difficulties and set difficulties. The sound problems did seem to improve after intermission, so it is hoped that those challenges will not be continued throughout the run of the show.
The Ziegfeld is one of my favorite companies in the Ogden area, but this production seemed more uneven in quality than the company’s other productions. While many of the elements of lighting and set design by Austin Stephenson and Caleb Perry, respectively, were phenomenal, the execution by the cast and crew was rushed and out of step. I hope that as the cast and crew work together, these issues can be less evident, and the show will become tighter as the run progresses. Footloose at the Ziegfeld has a lot of potential to be a fun evening of entertainment.
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