Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Footloose"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2011 by Tony Annicone


Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The current production at Bill Hanney's NSMT is "Footloose", a musical based on the 1984 movie. This show tells the story of Ren, a fun-loving boy from Chicago, who finds himself having to move to Bomont, Texas, a small conservative town with his mother. Dancing and rock 'n roll are banned in this town until this teenager opens their eyes with his exuberance and zest for life. Breaking every taboo, Ren brings dance to the heart of the town held back by the memory of a tragedy. Although most dance musicals have almost no plot, this one has a serious side to it which helps to give it a perfect blend of upbeat numbers and meaningful ballads. "Footloose" is a show with a lot of heart, boasting many memorable Oscar nominated songs in its score and with insightful direction by Mark Martino, brilliant musical direction by Eric Alsford and fabulous choreography by Vince Pesce who assemble a powerhouse cast to sell it. Their expertise is rewarded with a spontaneous standing ovation at the close of the show.

New owner Bill Hanney spares no expense in bringing this 1980's blockbuster musical to Beverly, MA. The gorgeous 1980's costumes are by Jose Rivera. Mark works his magic with this script and infuses it with the needed depth to give the characters more than one dimension. This is especially true of the minister's role because he is seen as a villain throughout almost the whole show until the reason for his behavior and bitterness towards dancing is revealed. This is where Mark shows his strength as a director by bringing the best acting out of his performers. Eric leads his orchestra beautifully whether it is in the rock numbers or the emotionally charged ballads. Vince does a dynamite job with all the dance numbers especially the title number and "Let's Hear It for the Boy". This talented cast is lead by John Jeffrey Martin as Ren and Chelsea Morgan Stock as Ariel. These two performers act like seasoned veterans. John displays a great deal of charisma as the boy from Chicago who eventually triumphs over all adversities in bringing life back to this town. He shows off his powerful tenor voice in the title number which opens the show with a fantastic dance segment and his "I Can't Stand Still" number where he explains why dancing is important to him, and "I'm Free" and the rap song "Dancing is Not a Crime". John excels in all his dance numbers with one of the funniest being the skating segment at the burger joint. He shows his acting prowess throughout the show but the strongest moment is in his final confrontation with the minister. John gets his singing prowess from his grandfather, Johnny Desmond, a famous crooner from the 1940's. Chelsea, a gorgeous brunette, is another dynamic performer in this show. Her duet of "Almost Paradise" with John and her "Holding Out for a Hero" are fantastic. The latter one is sung with a trio of girls and sends chills up your spine. Chelsea's belting singing voice is terrific throughout the show and she shows off her soprano range in "Almost Paradise". She gives this ingenue a backbone whether she is standing up to her parents or thug boyfriend. Chelsea and John make this young couple believable with their brilliant performances.

The minister, Shaw Moore, and his wife, Vi are played by George Dvorsky and Maureen Brennan. These two performers bring out the poignancy in the show and bring you to tears during their numbers. George shows off his powerful voice in this pivotal role in "On Any Sunday" and "Heaven Help Me". The minister is so strict and stern during the first act, it makes you wonder why the character is behaving this way? The answer is revealed in the tear jerking second act song "Can You Find It in Your Heart". The death of a child in a show is very difficult for an audience to bear because it is one of the most devastating moments a parent faces in real life. It is because of this strong feeling you are able to understand Shaw's pain at the death of his son in a car accident after a dance years ago. George shows Shaw's realization of having to let go of the past and bring his family close together again by living life to its fullest. Maureen's voice soars in her songs, "Learning to be Silent" about how Vi must behave as a minister's wife and "Can You Find It in Your Heart" a poignant song where she wants to be loved as she was years ago. Her acting as this sympathetic character is outstanding as is her vocal talent. They join in the big dance at the end of the show with George wearing a white tuxedo, looking like John Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever". Ren's long suffering mother Ethel is beautifully played by Marci Reed. She makes a strong impression in her scenes with her comic line delivery as this underused character in the show but gets to show her voice in "Learning to be Silent.

The hilarious side of the show are the antics of Matthew Dorsey as Willard and Gwen Hollander as Rusty. Matthew is one of the biggest scene stealers in the show and is a hoot as the country bumpkin who can barely string a sentence together around the girls and is embarrassed because he never learned how to dance. But when Willard does learn how to dance, he is superb. Matthew is marvelous in "Mama Says", a vaudeville type number which shows Willard's mother is as dumb as he is by saying never bring a toaster into the bathtub. Gwen is a pretty and feisty red head, who sings and dances excellently. She teaches Willard how to dance in "Let's Hear It for the Boy" which she belts out marvelously. Gwen also sings the warning song to Ren called "Somebody's Eyes". She is a wonderful comedienne and handles her funny lines with ease. Her two sidekicks, Urleen and Wendy Jo are played for many laughs by Andrea Collier and Marissa Rosen.

The other villain in this show is the bad boy, Chuck Cranston played very convincingly by Sean Watkins. His thug like character gives Ren and Ariel, black eyes. Sean also shows off his topnotch jazz voice in "This Girl Get Around". His two fellow hoods,Travis and Lyle are well played by Joe Moeller and Steven Boyd Baker who sing harmony in his number. Playing the mean spirited Uncle Wes is Gary Lynch who I saw at Theatre by the Sea for many years (he also plays Cowboy Bob singing the rock and roll opening song of Act 2 "Still Rockin') and his supportive wife is Jen Jenkins who is a hoot as the car hop roller skating owner of the burger joint. So for a splendid high energy musical treat that will lift your spirits during the hot summer season, be sure to catch the sizzling "Footloose" at NSMT.

"Footloose!" (16 - 28 August)
@ 62 Dunham Road, BEVERLY MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide