SUNDANCE — From the 1984 classic film is born the stage adaptation of Footloose. A popular film, especially in Utah perhaps from the familiar setting, most are acquainted with the teenage rebellion against the staunch rules of smalltown Bomont. Sundance Summer Theatre, in partnership with Utah Valley University‘s School of the Arts, offers a stunning mountain evening of excellent dancing, a mixed bag in acting and vocals, but overall fun.
Stage adaptation by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie with music and lyrics by Tom Snow and Pitchford, Footloose the musical stays true to the film in story, even incorporating some of the classic 1980’s songs from the original. As in the film, Ren McCormack moves from Chicago to small town Bomont with his mother after his dad has left them. In their new town of Bomont, classic literature is banned for being too racy, dancing is forbidden, and loud music is a punishable crime. Naturally Ren falls for the preacher’s daughter, Ariel, and together they take on the town, petitioning for a school dance while Ren also faces the challenges of assimilating into small town life. Viewed in the crisp mountain air with a backdrop of evergreens flooded in colored lighting, director Rob Moffat delivers a Footloose that is all that one can expect from Footloose.
Undoubtedly, the highlight of the night was the dancing. Choreography by Adam Ray Dyer was fantastic and expertly executed by talented dancers. “I’m Free,” the last number before intermission, was my favorite choreography using ropes from an overhead bridge and showcasing the strong dancers. The ensemble dancing had a potent energy and if anything, I wish I could have seen more from them, especially as the second act was more stationary and serious. Dance was used to express joy and celebration but could have also been used as a tool to portray angst and frustration.
The best dance performance was Eric Ascione as Ren McCormack. Each time he danced, even with a stage full of ensemble, I was drawn to watching him. Ascione’s dancing was mesmerizing: precise yet emotional. In both “I’m Free” and “Footloose” at the finale, his dancing was the focal point of the show. Unfortunately, his acting and singing did not mirror his dancing talent. As Ren, Ascione didn’t quite nail it. Ascione portrayed Ren as cheeky and flippant. While I think this portrayal could have been successful in the lighter scenes and in relationships with some characters such as Willard, I found myself craving a more dynamic performance. The character of Ren has just had his world turned upside down, been abandoned by his father, and is basically hated by the whole town. If this brooding angst would have been more successfully exhibited, the glib humor where appropriate may have landed. Additionally, Ascione’s vocals did not measure up to the rest of the cast, which was painfully apparent in his duet, “Almost Paradise.”
Auspiciously, most of the cast brought tremendous vocals to the show. As Rusty, Beatriz Melo was powerful and playful singing, “Let’s Hear It for the Boy.” Hailey Hyde as Ariel sang splendidly in, “Holding Out for a Hero.” As Willard, Maxwell Eddington performed a funny and vocally sound, “Mama Says.” Eddington did a fantastic job as Willard. Eddington had the best comedic presence, with Willard learning to dance as one of his best scenes. Unfortunately, I missed most of Logan Murphy as Chuck’s song, “The Girl Gets Around,” as his mic was out. Yet Murphy as Chuck was a convincing small town alpha male in his camo jacket and cowboy boots.
The costume design by Cully Long truly represented the feel of a small town, which I can attest to being from rural Utah. In addition to Chuck in his “redneck” garb, Ren was properly wearing a T-shirt with a parental advisory warning and chucks rather than the acceptable and expected cowboy boots that the rest of the teenage boys wore. Willard’s boots and hat matched his character, and I was pleased that Ariel had her infamous red cowboy boots.
While there was no acting performance that outshone that of the rest of the cast, the vocals and dancing made up for the lack of pizzaz in the acting. Furthermore, even with some of the flaws and a big miss in casting, I had a lot of fun at this performance. The aesthetic venue and cohesively energetic cast coupled with a cute story and popular songs made the show worth seeing at the reasonable ticket price. This production of Footloose is a great show for a light and lively family night out. I do suggest taking a sweater, and if you should choose to walk to the amphitheater rather than taking the shuttle, I recommend wearing sensible shoes with socks, as it is quite steep, which is evident by the quarter size blister on my foot. . . Everybody cut Footloose!