Footloose review from Val Pennett (Wharfedale Observer)


Footloose, West Yorkshire Playhouse
Val Pennett, Wharfedale Observer
2 November 2013

The first thing that hits you with this production of Footloose is the sheer precision and energy of the dancing. My 9 year old grand-daughter’s face was a picture. Here, once again, Louise Denison, the Director and Choreographer, puts together a team of youngsters and her brilliant choreography is worthy of any professional staging. The overall effect from an audience point of view was jaw dropping. Music from the successful 1984 film, particularly the title song ‘Footloose’  and ‘Holding out for a Hero’ were chart toppers, with Footloose nominated  for an Academy Award in the 1985 Oscars. The songs are dynamic at times with a mixture of delightful Country & Western (‘Still Rockin’) and Rock & Roll. There were tuneful lighter numbers and lovely harmonies from the four lead girls. The band of eight musicians, including Musical Director Jim Lunt, was excellent but will perhaps tone down somewhat after the first performance.

A touching storyline is at the centre of the show giving opportunity for fine characterisations.  Ren is a teenage boy who’s father has walked out, so he and his mother have to go to live with her sister  in a small town nobody has heard of. The town is ruled by Reverend Moore, and because of a car accident five years earlier which killed four teenagers, dancing has been banned. Ren simply lives to dance. He begins to fall in love with Rev. Moore’s daughter Ariel, who objects to her father’s over protective behaviour and refuses to comply with his wishes. We learn later that her brother, Rev. Moore’s son, was one of the teenagers killed. Are Ren and Ariel allowed to be together and do the town’s teenagers get to dance? I’m sure you can guess!

As the two lead teenagers, Ben Lancaster and Arthington’s Rebecca Ferrin were impressive. Ben played Rolf in the LAOS production of ‘Sound of Music’  last March and Rebecca was Swallow in ‘Whistle Down the Wind’ earlier this year at our local Yeadon Town Hall. Both have great voices, natural stage presence and are wonderful dancers. There was a clever and imaginative performance from Lee West as Willard. He was a hoot when learning how to dance, showing in the end what a great dancer he is. Also he has natural comedy timing. A delightful performance came from Robyn McIntyre as Rusty, Willard’s on-off girlfriend, and their scenes together were funny and entertaining. Next year Robyn will play Cosette in Ilkley Upstager’s production of Les Miserables. With the more mature generation of players in the show, the Society is lucky to have the talent and experience both in the newcomers  and their own Society members, all making a vital contribution. None more so than John Hall playing Rev. Moore and Sarah Buckley as his wife Vi.  They are two contrasting characters. Vi is understanding and tolerant towards her husband and daughter and believes his total restraint of Ariel is making things worse. For both of them it is their first appearance with LAOS. His is a strong and powerful performance, melting eventually. He has a superb singing voice and will make a fine Julian Marsh in the Society’s next production of ‘42nd Street’ at the Grand Theatre in Leeds next March.  Sarah plays Vi beautifully. A gifted actress, she also has a lovely voice, and their scenes together were very moving and held the audience. Making up the foursome of lead girls were Fiona Lane and Frankie Townsend. Excellent in their roles, they were splendid foils to the wayward Ariel. The three boys keeping their eyes on Ren were Andrew Bennett, Kris Town and Matt Lightowler – all talented and great dancers. The small role of Ren’s mum was nicely played by Vicky Garbett.

The staging too looked good. Scene changes were numerous and not easy but were dealt with swiftly and without delaying continuity. Costumes were eye catching, particularly in the party scene. They brought back memories of the 80s. The Company’s singing of the finale was fantastic and had the audience on their feet, but my lasting memory will be of the vitality and vibrancy of those wonderful teenagers.

The show continues next week until Saturday. 

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Footloose review from Lauren Fordham (Leeds Student Radio)

Footloose, West Yorkshire Playhouse
Lauren Fordham, Leeds Student Radio
5 November 2013

The first thing that strikes you about this show is its sheer relentless energy. The cast are dancing almost constantly from the moment they enter the stage until they exit it. And the most energetic actor of all is undeniably Ben Lancaster, who plays the dancing rebel newcomer to Bomont (and male lead) Ren McCormack. He passionately portrays Ren's frustration at the city ban on dancing (following the death of the Rev Moore's son in a car crash following a dance) and makes the character confident, but not arrogant, and very likeable. His vocal range seems limitless and his athleticism is evident not only in his effortless dancing but also in his prowess on roller skates in the Burger Blast scene and press-ups in the school gym.
The other outstanding male lead who deserves recognition is John Hall, who plays Rev Moore. He fits the role of domineering-but-good-intentioned patriarch perfectly and his powerful voice makes him ideal as a preacher. His only weakness is in the consistency of his accent, which bears more of a likeness to Tevye the Russian Jew (from Fiddler on the Roof) than an American pastor.

The dark horses of the show are definitely Lee West and Robyn McIntyre, who play awkward couple Willard and Rusty. Willard starts as would-be ineffectual 'hard man', trying (and failing) to put new boy Ren in his place. West bides his time to reveal his excellent comic timing in 'Let's Hear It For The Boy' when he tries to explain to Ren that he can't dance and Ren mistakes it for lack of arousal with Rusty. 'Let's Hear It For The Boy' is also where McIntyre comes into her own vocally and shows the power of her voice in solo parts, where previously she had (due, I suspect, to inopportune microphone failure) been rather drowned out by Frankie Townsend and Fiona Lane, who make up the Greek chorus of friends around female lead Ariel (Rebecca Ferrin).

Overall, this is yet another slick, professional offering from LAOS whose boundless energy is contagious, so if you're suffering the post-Bonfire-Night-blues, go warm your heart and your hands (by clapping) and don't miss this brilliant show before it closes on 9th November.

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Review of "Footloose"  by David Streeter

Directed by: Louise Denison

MD: Jim Lunt

Choreographer: Louise Denison

6 November 2013

Bomont is a small town stitched up tight by religion and the Reverend Shaw Moore (John Hall).  He persuaded the town council to pass ordinances banning dancing within town limits following a fatal road accident a few years earlier. Then Ren McCormack (Ben Lancaster) arrives in high school from Chicago and begins undermining the Reverend’s rules. The fact that Ren is attracted to the Reverend’s daughter, Ariel (Rebecca Ferrin), only adds fuel to the fire. There are numerous altercations, before the Reverend comes to accept that dancing, of itself, is not the great evil and the show closes with an energetic reprise of ‘Footloose’ with the whole cast, including the Reverend dancing for all they are worth.

Some say that the storyline is basic and thin. I disagree. Watching the torment of the Reverend and the stroppy Ren, complete journeys of realisation, as the show progresses to the feel good, final scene, was a pleasure to watch and enjoy. For me a pivotal moment came when the Reverend’s wife Vi Moore (Sarah Buckley) uttered the line to her husband about their daughter along the lines of ‘when did you stop being her friend?’

I wonder how many parents in the audience twitched a bit at that?  

The staging allowed full use of the large playing space, and was kept, in the main, fairly clear except for any necessary trucks and set piece scenery. This allowed swift scene changes and lots of space for company movement whilst retaining intimacy in scenes where necessary.

This was a super show, brilliantly directed and inventively choreographed by Louise Denison and under the musical direction of Jim Lunt. Clearly a very strong creative team.

There were no cruising performances in this hugely talented cast who were full of drive and energy. Everyone played their part in creating an amazing performance.  

In particular I thought Somebody’s Eyes was beautifully doneand Holding Out for a Hero and Let’s Hear it for the Boy were great. I loved Vi Moore’s Can You Find It In Your Heart.

The whole show was very slick.  Great principals, strong vocal and dancing company. Swift scene changes, excellent lighting and costumes made Footloose thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end.

Good theatre.

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