Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Footloose"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2002 by Tony Annicone

"Footloose"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The current production at Theatre-by-the-Sea is "Footloose", a musical based on the 1984 movie. This show tells the story of a fun-loving boy from Chicago, who finds himself having to move to Bomont, Oklahoma, 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. 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 a powerhouse cast to sell it.

Director/choreographer, Brett Smock 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 villian throughout almost the whole show until the reason for his behavior and bitterness towards dancing is revealed. This is where Brett shows his strength as a director by bringing the best acting out of his performers. He also does a dynamite job with all the dance numbers with the title number and "Let's Hear It For the Boy" as standouts. The musical director, Karl Shymanovitz leads his orchestra beautifully whether it is in the rock numbers or the emotionally charged ballads. Only 22 years old, he is a very talented pianist as well as conductor and this year is Karl's third summer at TBTS. the set designer, Jeff Modereger uses a scrim and various flats and set pieces to change the settings from place to place and it makes the changes flow smoothly while lighting designer, Tom Sturge sets the mood with his different colored lighting especially in the emotional charged scenes. Marilyn Salvatore designs many beautiful costumes especially the prom outfits in the closing number and Walter Trarbach handles the sound on the mainstage and in the cabaret after the show. This hard working group presents a show to be very proud of.

This talented cast is led by Matt Cavenaugh as Ren McCormick and Elizabeth Stanley as Ariel. Only in their early twenties, these two perform as well as seasoned veterans. Matt displays a great deal of charisma as the boy from Chicago who eventually triumphes over all adversities in bringing life back to this town. He uses his powerful voice in the title number which opens the show with a fantastic dance segment and in his "I Can't Stand Still" number where he explains why dancing is important to him. Matt excells in all his dance numbers, too with one of the funniest bits in the show being the roller skating segment at the burger joint. His acting prowess is shown throughout the show but his strongest moment is in his final confrontation with the minister. This talented young man will soon be appearing as Dorian Gray in the new musical, "Dorian" at the Denver Center and as Bud Davis in the stage version of "Urban Cowboy" at the Coconut Grove Playhouse. (Both shows are world premiere productions.) Elizabeth, a gorgeous blond, is another dynamic performer in this show. Her duet of "Almost Paradise" with Matt and her "Holding Out for a Hero" are fantastic. The latter is sung with a trio of girls and sends chills up your spine with her belting singing voice, making it one of my favorite ones. Elizabeth gives the ingenue a boost with her strength and gives her a backbone whether she is standing up to her parents or to a thug boyfriend. She and Matt make this young couple believable with their brilliant performances. (They also perform in the cabaret with Matt singing "Summer Nights" and Elizabeth singing "Times Like This".)

The minister, Shaw Moore, and his wife, Vi are played by John Antony and Suellen Estey. These two performers bring out the poignancy in the show and both bring you to tears during their numbers. John's role is so hateful and one dimensional during the first act, it makes you wonder why is the character behaving this way? The answer is revealed in the second act in the song, "I Confess". The death of a child in a show is very difficult for an audience to bear because it is one of the most devestating moments a parent can face in real life but 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. John shows Shaw's realization of having to let go of the past and bring the rest of the family close to you by living life to its fullest. Suellen plays the most sympathetic adult in the show and her ballads are magnificent. The first, "Learning to Be Silent" shows how Vi is expected to behave as a minister's wife and her second song, "Can't You Find it in Your Heart?" is a tear jerker number where she wants to be loved like she was years ago. Her acting is outstanding and her voice is, too.

The hilarious side of the evening are the antics of Jeff Skowron as Willard and Jenna Coker as Rusty. Jeff is a hoot as the country bumpkin who can barely string a sentence together and is embarassed because he never learned how to dance but when he does he is superb. Jeff does a wonderful job in "Mama Says", a vaudeville type number which shows Williard's mother is as dumb as he is. The dancing trio, who backs him up in this song with fantastic harmonies, are played by Scott Barnhardt, (who just appeared in "A Beautiful Mind") E. Scott Brateng (who hails from Seattle and in cabaret, sings "Good Thing Going On" from "Merrily We Roll Along") and Conor Gallagher. ( who sings, "Just in Love" and "Whole New World" duets in cabaret and created the catch words of the summer, Fierce & Mess) Jenna is a feisty red head who delivers her many one liners with ease. Jenna as Rusty teaches Williard how to dance in the song "Let's Hear It For the Boy"and sings the warning song, "Somebody's Eyes" to Ren about always being watched. She is a wonderful comedienne who can also sing and dance as well. Her two blonde sidekicks, Urleen and Wendy Jo are played for many laughs, by Nicole Tracy ( who stepped in this role with no rehearsal and does it beautifully) and Missy Schmotzer (who sings "Whole New World" with Conor and "Summer Nights" with Matt in cabaret)

The other villian in this show is the bad boy, Chuck played very convincingly by Genson Blimline. His thuglike character gives Ren and Ariel, blackeyes. Genson also sings well in his song about Ariel, "This Girl Gets Around". His two fellow hoods are ably played by David Michael Roth and Peter Leskowicz (who sings "Dressing for Him" from "Kiss of the Spider Woman" in cabaret) Other cast members include Kimberly Chesser,( who sings "Let's Make Believe We're in Love" and is also the new cabaret host) Emily Fletcher, Amber Krzys and Amy Miller. (who juggles while eating apples in the cabaret)The Rhode Island residents include Nicole Morris, ( who plays Ren's kindhearted, mother) Geri Sereno, ( who plays the coach's wife), Joe Iozzi, (who plays the cop) Gannon McHale, (who plays the coach), Holly Kane, (who plays the aunt and sings scat and belts out "Stormy Weather" and "The Boy from New York City) Neil Santoro(who plays the mean Uncle and sings "Perhaps Love" a duet in cabaret with Fredric Scheff (who also sings "Sit Down You're Rockin The Boat" and plays the strict principal)

Another addition to the cabaret staff is the multitalented music director, Adam Wachter. Only a student at the University of Michigan, he is an accomplished pianist and vocalist. Adam sings a duet with Kim in this cabaret called, "Wanting" and he also plays second keyboard for the mainstage show. Welcome to TBTS.

An added treat on press night is the delicious buffet prepared by The Sea Horse Grill owner and master chef, Duane Crowe. This time the mouth watering treats consisted of baked ham, mashed potatoes, zucchini and rice, salad, rolls and an enormous chocolate cake with white frosting. The food is always so good, it disappears very quickly.

So for an entertaining evening of dynamic dancing, scintillating singing and awesome acting, be sure to catch "Footloose", you definitely won't be disappointed.

"Footloose" (till 20 July)
THEATRE BY THE SEA
364 Cards Pond Road, MATUNUCK, RHODE ISLAND
1 (401) 782-8587

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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