Peacock Theatre, London – until 30 September 2017
Guest reviewer: Rosalind Freeborn
It’s hard to believe that it was 33 years ago that the film of Footloose broke all cinema records with its popularity and got millions of people around the world tapping their toes to the catchy title song. The production at the Peacock, which has been touring the UK, returns to the West End for a short run – until the end of September – and brings a shot of high-energy entertainment to London.
It has to be said that the actual story is gossamer thin – the teenage Ren and his newly divorced mother have to leave the big city and bright lights of Chicago and live with an uncle and aunt in the sleepy country town of Bomont where dancing and jollity have been banned. You can see where this is going. The theme is rather reminiscent of those films with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney were put upon youngsters fight their way out of a difficult situation by…. yes, putting on a show!
There is much to commend in this production, not least the extreme talent of the young cast who have to sing, dance, play instruments live on stage and act. It’s a huge ask but it does provide opportunities for some outstanding performances. Ren is played by a bouncy Joshua Dowen, who brings elements of pathos to his role, especially when expressing his sorry at his father’s abandonment; he rises to the role of lead spokesman for teenagers who want to have fun and vigorously lobbies the town’s establishment to allow dance to return and for kids to express themselves. He is ably supported by Hannah Price who plays the Reverend’s racy daughter, Ariel, who longs for freedom.
But the standout performance of the night is from Gareth Gates. Having risen to fame by being a finalist in the very first Pop Idol talent show on television, in 2002, he has become a seasoned actor, singer, dancer and musician. He brings a much-needed comedy to the piece – amongst the rather worthy youngsters – and makes a jaw-dropping transformation from overalls-wearing, toothpick-chewing village idiot, Willard, into a bare-chested, shades-wearing hunk all torso-twisting with glistening skin and knowing smiles. The audience clearly approved, bringing uproar to the theatre. And his character continued his development by emerging from simple soul to thoughtful contributor to the bid to reinstate dancing in Bowood. The scene where he ‘learns’ to dance, is comedy and theatre gold.
Photo Credit Matt Martin
Coleen Nolan (of the Nolan Sisters) is Vi, the downtrodden, emotionally repressed wife of the Reverend. In Learning to be Silent, her voice blends beautifully with her daughter, Ariel and Ethel, Ren’s mother, played by Lindsay Goodhand.
Impressive support is provided by Laura Sillett as Rusty – daffy schoolgirl mad about the monosyllabic Willard – Gracie Lai as the more serious Urleen and particular praise must go to Emma Fraser who, as Wendy-Jo, brought real character and wit to her role. The girlfriends work magnificently together in the ‘Holding Out for a Hero’ number combining dance, song and expert musicianship to create a true showstopper.
Photo Credit Matt Martin
Footloose: The Musical is huge fun and a bit like eating candy floss. It would work brilliantly as a Christmas pantomime show and is guaranteed to ensure audiences stream out the theatre humming the tunes and tapping those feet.
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