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This review by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on April 14, 1999. All rights reserved
Broadway Review: `Footloose’
If the 1984 film "Footloose" served as a rite
of passage for you, you may want to see what Broadway has done with
it. If you concede that it was the film’s invigorating, youth-propelled
dancing that compensated for the corny, hackneyed, and far-fetched
plot, then you are half way home to enjoying the stage version.
"Footloose" is now a big splashy Broadway musical that boasts
the kind of let-loose get-togethers designed to keep mini-minds from
asking, "What’s going on here?" A neutered cross between the
adolescent angst of "Rebel Without a Cause" and the sexual
dynamics of "Flashdance," "Footloose" is more weirdly
cultish. Pre-teens especially dig the odd story as much as the libido-driven
What goes on between the servings of A.C. Ciulla’s gymnastic choreography
is almost worthy of a sci-fi flick. The residents of a small provincial
town somewhere in the heartland of America appear to be living in
a repressed state of perpetual funk. They are not prepared for the
buoyant, big city personalities of divorcee Ethel McCormack (Catherine
Cox) and her personable teenage son, Ren (Jeremy Kushnier), who are
treated like visiting aliens.
Arriving in search of a new life with the help of family relatives,
Ethel and Ren find things more than a little strange in their new
town. Its townsfolk, clergy, school faculty, and particularly the
high schoolers, look askance at the antics of the bright, enthusiastic,
life-affirming Ren. They are horrified and resentful to see the young
stranger attempting to be friendly by dancing.
Ren and Ethel are shocked to discover that the local church and town
council have banned all dancing. The whole town has been led to believe
by its one and only spiritual leader, the stiff-necked autocratic
Reverend Shaw Moore (Stephen Lee Anderson), that dancing is evil.
That is ever since a fatal car crash that included among its teenage
victims, his son. Trying to find a life within the clergyman’s immovable
stance on dancing is his conciliatory wife, Vi (Dee Hoty), and his
outspoken, rebellious daughter Ariel (Jennifer Laura Thompson). Can
Ren and Ariel keep from meeting secretly and kicking up their heels?
No way. Will the town come to its senses? Sure thing!
You would think that it would be easy to push aside a story as foolish
as this for the sheer anticipation of seeing youthful bodies spin,
turn, jump, and leap in reckless abandon. But it’s not easy to push
aside such an inane premise and a bevy of characters that haven’t
anything to say or sing about that’s worth listening to. The familiar
characters that appear somehow acceptably one-dimensional in the film
are more conspicuously cloned and cloying on stage.
The performers, however, know how to sell what they have. The loose,
limber, and talented Kushnier is genuinely appealing as the all-dancing
and singing kid who crash-lands in the Bible Belt. Thompson is a charmer
and sings a sweet duet ("Almost Paradise") with Kushnier atop
a bridge. Tom Plotkin is funny as the town dunce, while Anderson is
not as the fire and brimstone preacher. Times must be tough when Hoty,
a fine actress and singer, has to settle for the thankless one-song
(the insipid "Can You Find It in Your Heart") role she has
The show’s book by Dean Pitchford (who also wrote the
screenplay) is a textbook of moralizing and demoralizing cliches so
indefensible as to be offensive. This is true in the light of a show
that doesn’t display a trace of normal behavior, either sexual or
social. Does this mean the show has been made acceptable for those
pre-teens and younger whose parents can pay $75 a seat?
The film’s original, lively pop score ("Let’s Hear It For the
Boy" is memorable) by Tom Snow and lyrics by Pitchford, is all
there, but, to its detriment, augmented with some new and truly awful
songs. Director Walter Bobbie attacks the show’s dumbest scenes —
all those that depend upon dialogue, music, and lyrics at the Moore
home, the town hall, and the church — with the same enthusiasm
that he supplies the remaining song and dance scenes.
Bobbie makes sure the more polished young dancers upstage the few
that are less so. Not to be upstaged is designer John Lee Beatty,
who illustrates what a bright palette, imagination, and ingenuity
can do for a joyless town and a high school locker room. HH
— Simon Saltzman
$40 to $75.
The key: HHHH Don’t miss; HHH You won’t feel cheated;
HH Maybe you should have stayed home; H Don’t blame us.
Hare’s latest. Previews.
Bernadette Peters sings.
Brian Dennehy and Elizabeth Franz.
65. New musical from Crossroads Theater, opens April 22.
50 and Broadway. Tennessee Williams.
Rigby returns as the boy who wouldn’t grow up.
Avenue. Ticketmaster. Tony winner.
212-719-1300. Laurence Fishburne and Stockard Channing.
makes his Broadway debut.
219 West 49.
and Malachy McCourt.
Readings Sundays and Mondays.
By Harold Pinter.
42. Christopher Durang comedy. To April 18.
new play. To June 6.
407 West 43.
450 West 42.
131 East 10, 212-533-4650.
158 West 72, 212-799-4599.
212-647-0202. Underwater puppets of Basil Twist.
at 45, 212-719-1300.
Ticketmaster. Paul Rudnick.
Avenue, 212-279-4200. To April 25.
— Simon Saltzman
through Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. For Ticketmaster
listings call 800-755-4000 or 212-307-4100.
For current information on Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, music,
and dance call NYC/On Stage at 212-768-1818, a 24-hour performing
arts hotline operated by the Theater Development Fund. The TKTS same-day,
half-price ticket booth at Times Square (Broadway & 47th) is open
daily, 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. for evening performances; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
for Wednesday and Saturday matinees; and noon to closing for Sunday
matinees. The lower Manhattan booth, on the Mezzanine at 2 World Trade
Center, is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Saturday
11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; closed Sunday. Cash or travelers’ checks only.
Visit TKTS at: www.tdf.org.
A Broadway ticket line at 212-302-4111 gives information on Broadway,
selected Off-Broadway, and touring shows in other cities; calls can
be transferred to a ticket agent. Sponsored by Continental Airlines
and the New York Times.
New Hope’s One Theater Group presents the Kevin Del Aguila comedy.
To March 28.
the Great American Musicans season, six performances, March 25 to
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