Footloose is the best 80s dance film. Better than Dirty Dancing. There. I’ve said it. I stand by it. I love an 80s dance film in general (except Dirty Dancing, I really hate that film) but Footloose is unashamedly my favourite. Added to that an early 00’s pop favourite in Gareth Gates and Footloose is the making of an excellent, entertaining night out.
I love Footloose. I love the film and I have seen the stage version more times than I should probably admit. And for someone who is admittedly fairly snobby about film to stage/jukebox musicals that’s saying something. Did I mention I just really love an 80s dance film?
The current touring version (Directed by Racky Plews) is a slightly altered version to the original that toured in 204 (is it that long ago already?) with altered orchestrations-including actor-musicians, and new choreography. And it looks better than ever.
The story, in case you’ve never encountered it, centres on Ren McCormack (Luke Baker) who moves from Chicago to Bomont West Virginia with his Mom (Maureen Nolan) after his Father runs off. Bomont West Virginia, while also being what I think is technically known as ‘the arse end of nowhere’ also has the unfortunate law that no dancing is allowed within city limits. But of course, all Ren wants to do is dance. The reason for the ban on dancing isn’t just because they are crazy hicks from West Virginia, but also because the Reverend, who seems to have an unusual amount of power over the town, blames music for an accident and the death of his son. It’s not complicated, it doesn’t make a great deal of sense, but it makes for a pretty good backdrop for a lot of dancing, and some genuinely hilarious moments.
Firstly, as you’d expect the dancing is brilliantly choreographed and performed. Matthew Cole’s choreography takes enough elements of the original, and influences of 80s dance styles to make look authentic and familiar, but has also mixed it up enough to make it feel innovative. The cast all perform flawlessly and with such an infectious energy it’s hard not to be won over. The actor-musician element also adds a great dimension to the piece. Although some complain this style is overdone, the live music in Footloose really adds a dimension to what could otherwise feel like a flat piece of partly jukebox musical. Instead the music feels like a part of the narrative, in the ways a classic Kenny Loggins track always did in an 80s film.
The cast work incredibly hard as an ensemble, and it feels unfair to highlight individuals. However, Luke Baker as Ren shows off some incredible dance skills and manages to gesture towards the iconic Kevin Bacon performance, without imitating him. Mention must also be made to Gareth Gates as Willard (who was always my favourite, and the one I’d ask to the dance at the end). Giving one of the most hilarious performances I’ve seen in a while as the slightly dim-witted uncoordinated Willard. The scene in which he learns to dance is utterly ridiculous, his expressions alone are worth the ticket. Mention should also be made (and credit given) to direction/choreography that mean Gates is stripped down to a tiny pair of shorts…it might not be a great artistic decision but it defiantly was a crowd pleaser. And that sums up Footloose really. It’s a crowd pleasing fun, energetic night out. And sometimes, that’s exactly what you need in the theatre. That, and apparently Gareth Gates in little clothing.
Footloose is on tour nationwide until October. Tickets and information here: Footloose the Musical