‘Footloose’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by October 10, 2016

‘Footloose’ is recognised as one of the most fiery movie musicals. It was written in 1983 by Dean Pitchford and is based on true events; however, the music that was composed by Tom Snow, Jim Steinman, Kenny Loggins, Dean Pitchford and Deborah Lurie was not added until 1998. This production has an Oscar and Tony-nominated ‘Top 40’ score, with the album selling 15 million copies.

This effervescent, power packed, two-and-a-half-hour stage version is being presented by Mandurah’s Performing Arts Centre and Stray Cats Productions with generous support from the City of Mandurah. Shows are at 7.30 each evening until Saturday 8th October. There are sparkling matinées on Saturday and Sunday at 2.00.

This is the same outstanding team that brought major productions to Mandurah, such as ‘Mary Poppins’ and ‘Wicked’. Both sold out for almost every show.

 

The innovative Set Designer was Karen Francis, who sensibly built whole sitting rooms, outback stations and cafés on wheels so the scene could be changed in minimal time with least manpower. Bronwyn White supervised the varied, colourful artwork that covered everything from the stained glass windows of the church (helped by Peter Francis), to the Wild West, boot scooting venue. The numerous props were well sourced by Sheryl Gale. The set builders also included Pat Francis, Jon Lambert, Robin and Lexie Sleet, Mark Bone, Mal Thompson. Duncan Anderson, Rory Ellis and Trevs Carpets.

The headset microphones worked perfectly, thanks to Charlotte Roberts. Karen Francis’ lighting design was lively and added excitement to the show. Well done spotlight operators Thea Clarke and Khaijun Pearce.

       The curtain rises and the theatre explodes into the opening number. Youngsters run down the aisles and onto the stage. With around 80 singers and dancers on the stage, it is vibrant.

       When teenager, Ren (Jason Arrow) is abandoned by his father, he and his Mum, Ethel (Sonja Pich), move from Chicago to the Mid-West, woop woop town of Bomont to live with Ren’s Aunt Lulu (Sarah Bridgeman) and his Uncle Wes (Jarrad Cas Thomas).

      At Ren’s new school is Ariel (Georgia McGivern), the sought-after daughter of the puritanical minister, Reverend Shaw (Scott Hanson) and his wife, Vi (Kristie Gray). Ariel has an obnoxious boyfriend, Chuck Cranston (Tate Bennett), who works at the local garage with wasters, Travis (Bailey Bridgeman-Peters) and Lyle (Brandan Halsey).

      Ariel’s school friends, Wendy-Jo (Kelsey Skinner), Rusty (Susy Wiseman) and Urleen (Megan Burne) try to warn her about Chuck, but Ariel will not listen. Ren finds himself being cast out by the school Principal (Rach Hayter) for being too outspoken. The sports coach, Mr Dunbar (Peter Sydney-Smith) and his wife, Eleanor (Tracy Bolton), treat Ren dismally because they are the best friends of the Rev. Shaw.

       Whilst in Betty’s (Anita Telkamp) ‘Blast’ soda café, shy Willard (Nicholas Gaynor) explains that due to an accident seven years earlier, the town council has a ‘no pop music and no dancing’ policy. Horrified, Ren musters his classmates and tries – unsuccessfully – to demand a senior prom, and so with a group of friends they drive 100 miles to an untamed night of liberty at the Bar BQ Club. The Club is a wild place, where Bickle (Robbie Fieldwick), Bob (Andrew William Coshan) and his cowgirl (Lisa Taylor) boot scoot, as the singers chant.

      Can Ren win over Ariel’s heart? With the help of friends, Jeter (Alex White) and Garvin (Matthew Walford), can anything be done to change Reverend Moore’s mind?

 

The musical director and conductor David Hicks, was on his swansong; he was joined by band members Bronwen Herholdt (keyboard), Bec Moroney (woodwind), Kelly John McCarthy (bass guitar), Troy Plackett and William Christensen both on guitar, and with Mark Beasy on Drums. The music was lively and played with passion.

I do not want to detract from the high quality of the music, but because there was no orchestra pit – the musicians being on the same level as the audience – at times the drums were overpowering. I appreciate that they cannot be played quietly, and still give the feeling and the enthusiasm demanded by the show, but perhaps some room dividers around the drums, or a sheet of Perspex (as on the recent ‘Clinton – the musical’) could muffle the sound slightly. Incidentally, the drummer’s novel performance in the garage workshop was a musical highlight.

There was a massive cast, of around 60, who were all on stage most of the time. When a scene fills and empties, it must be instant, with no queues at the wings waiting to leave the stage. This process was VERY slickly stage managed by Rachel Hayter and Ruby Spinning, with assistance from Anita Telkamp, Wayne and Vanessa Gale.

Each cast member had several elaborate and beautifully styled costumes, ranging from the choristers with their gowns and vivid satin hoods, to the crazy cowboy and cowgirl outfits. The wardrobe mistress, Kerry Tarbuck, wisely enlisted the help of Linda Lowry, Michelle Thompson, Karen Francis, Jordan Hopkins, and Cathy Wainright to ensure that every performer looked their very best. The result was stunning, plenty of colour and quality costume construction, all based on that period three decades ago.

The amazing choreography, thanks to teachers Lisa Taylor and her assistant Danielle Taylor, was creative and energetic. Every dancer had intricate body, arm and hand movements, with styles that ranged from moonwalking, boot scooting, ballet and on to swing. Even the ‘useless Willard’ became a star in the end (well done Nicholas). In every dance scene or meeting, there were several groups of actors, who were all fully involved in different activities; this gave a huge depth to each section.

The director, Karen Francis and her vocal director Kristie Gray had to oversee dozens of youngsters and complicated teching, before they even got to the singing and dancing. Karen has been so lucky in having several WAAPA trained actors and dancers leading and performing in her team. One of the girls, Kelsey, danced and sang professionally with the others – and yet she is still a Year 11 student. So much enthusiastic talent, without a single weak link. Fabulous, very well-rehearsed cast.

The half dozen main cast members just left you gasping at the rich voices and energy packed performances.

This production had at a top line-up of talented singers, with perfect pitch and plenty of power in their voices. Just amazing. Mandurah has so much to offer.

Karen’s shows are always so very professional; always being better value than the expensive shows performed in the major theatres of Australia. One tends to forget that ‘Footloose’ is simply another Community Theatre production. Congratulations to all concerned, and an extra thanks to the City of Mandurah for giving the kids a chance, and giving us Perth dwellers an extra excuse to travel down to Mandurah for on a spring day.

It will not be long before Karen’s discoveries are on major productions travelling the world. Remember where you saw them first – Mandurah.