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by on 17 August 2022



by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie

Selladoor Worldwide at New Wimbledon Theatre until 20th August

Review by Andrew Lawston

Wimbledon Theatre is tonight transformed into Bomont, the town where dancing and rock music are prohibited.  Itchy-footed rebel Ren McCormack moves from Chicago to Bomont with his mother, and proceeds to challenge the status quo.  Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie’s stage adaptation of the 1984 film starring Kevin Bacon, Dianne Wiest, and John Lithgow, has plenty of its own star power, in addition to an iconic soundtrack and music by Tom Snow.

A brief announcement mentions that Mike Nichols, the Musical Director, is conducting the evening’s performance, and excitingly that the actors will be playing instruments live on stage.  In practice, most of the musicians on stage are in the ensemble, but Ren and Chuck both pick up an acoustic guitar and saxophone, respectively.  It’s a bold move from director Racky Plews to have actors playing live in the middle of choreographed musical numbers, and it adds a sense of danger and rawness to the production.  Nichols later takes a greatly deserved bow at the end of the show, brandishing a frankly gorgeous bass guitar.

The set is a fantastic confection from designer Sara Perks, the forbidding scaffold brightly lit by Chris Davey’s lighting, and then dressed with bright pink sofas made to look like the back of a Cadillac, or school lockers that swivel to reveal the gym’s showers.  With scenery flying in or sliding across the stage, Footloose is an extremely slick exercise in stage management.

The audience are holding out for a hero and, sure enough, slipping into Kevin Bacon’s blue denim as Ren McCormack is Joshua Hawkins, who is in fine form as a rebellious teenager, questioning everything and accepting nothing.  He soon bumps heads with Tom Mussell’s aggressive Chuck, who also plays a mean saxophone, and it’s a shame that their rivalry isn’t fully explored by the script.  Hawkins also has great chemistry with Chuck’s girlfriend Ariel, played by Lucy Munden in a confident performance.

West End stalwart Darren Day commands the stage as the smoothly charismatic Reverend Shaw Moore, whose son passed away in a drink-driving accident five years previously, leading to the law against public dancing in Bomont.  As with the rest of the cast, his accent is impeccable, and his singing voice remains as strong as ever.  Reverend Moore’s wife, Vi, is played by Holly Ashton, and her character retains a wonderful lightness of touch which helps prevent Shaw from ever appearing too pompous or antagonistic.

Ren’s loyal best friend Willard is played by Aston Merrygold, who probably remains best known as a member of the group JLS and for his subsequent solo career.  His singing voice is as excellent as you might expect from such a high-profile recording artist, but his acting performance is also full of vibrant energy with a flair for physical comedy, and it is to be hoped Merrygold continues taking on acting roles.

Oonagh Cox rounds out the main young cast as Rusty.  We enjoyed Cox’s performance in Cinderella at Richmond Theatre last year, and it was great to see her again in such a prominent role.  Like the rest of the cast, she reveals a fantastic singing voice here.  Rusty, with Urleen and Wendy-Jo (Samantha Richards and Jess Barker respectively), sing Somebody’s Eyes several times throughout the first half, recalling the chorus of Crystal, Ronette, and Chiffon from that other great 1980s musical classic, Little Shop of Horrors.

Ren’s mother Ethel is played by Wendy Paver, who also plays Bomont High School’s Coach, and a couple of other small roles.  She is perhaps most memorable as Ethel McCormack, and the huge shoulder pads on her green jacket perhaps cement the show in the 1980s more firmly than anything else in the production.

Footloose’s soundtrack is almost as famous as the film that it accompanied, and the best-remembered songs are present and correct, including Bonnie Tyler’s Holding Out For A Hero, which is belted out by Lucy Munden’s Ariel with superb gusto, as well as Almost Paradise, Let’s Hear It For The Boy, and of course the Kenny Loggins title song, Footloose, which is reprised several times to a delighted audience.

With all these joyous songs, Footloose is very clearly a feel-good show, and this leads to a couple of odd adaptation choices – several fistfights occur off-stage, but characters then come on with black eyes and talk about them at length, to the extent that it might have been more effective, and quicker, to stage the altercations.

But if some of the source film’s grittier moments are smoothed over a little, it does nothing to diminish the impact of the exuberant outpouring of teenage energy during the inevitable happy ending with the equally inevitable reprise of the title song.  Footloose is a tremendously high-energy show and the two hours of its running time flash past in a whirl of memorable songs, colourful costumes, and great performances.

Andrew Lawston, August 2022

Photography by Mark Senior

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