Footloose has been around for 35 years.  It started as a script, based on a true story of a university student who challenged an eighty year old ban on dancing in a small Oklahoma town.  It became a very successful film in 1984, launching many hit songs including the title song for Kenny Loggins.  Footloose was remade in 2011.  The film was adapted for the stage in 1998 by Dean Pitchford, the original writer.  And so, the story of Ren McCormick, newly arrived from Chicago, taking on the conservative God-fearing townsfolk of Bomont, successfully over-turning the town’s ban on dancing, lives on in theatres around the world.

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The current tour of Footloose is full of contradiction.  Not much of it makes sense, from the direction, design, choreography or casting, and yet the audience doesn’t seem to mind.

The choice to have the cast play all of the musical accompaniment to the show is a creative one.  One suspects it is also a financial one.  David Keech (Musical Director) on drums is hidden and perched high in the set, looking down over proceedings, conducting and playing.  All the actors pick up guitars, flutes, saxophones, trumpets, or sit at one of the two keyboards that flank either side of the sketchy set.  Their achievement alone is worth noting, but the total effect of the sound is inconsistent at times, and overly loud at others. When all of the actors are continually holding instruments while delivering lines the effect is much more ‘music circus’ than ‘music theatre’.

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All the bells and whistles are on parade; there is the roller-skate routine, the gym routine, the church moments and the rowdy bar set up, the brawls and the back-flips.  But for all the lack of cohesion in this patchwork production, the Woking audience seemed to enjoy it.

The stars of the show are Gareth Gates and Maureen Nolan.  Maureen Nolan seems unchallenged in her role as Vi Clark (wife of the Rev Shaw) but her sincerity carries her through.  Her performance of Can You Find It In Your Heart was surprisingly effective.  Her strong head voice and tone giving a lift to the second act; her experience apparent.

Gareth GatesGareth Gates as the ‘awkward friend’ to the main character was miscast.  But when he took the lead in Mama Says You Can’t Back Down it became apparent, for the first time in the performance, that some one had actually commanded the stage and taken the focus.  His acting was quite over the top, but then so much of this production resembles pantomime. His star power and his likeability win the day.  He too has a great deal of experience and when his overalls are ripped off in a very funny dream sequence, and we are left with Gareth parading around in skimpy denim shorts, with glossy metal inserts and aviator sunglasses… the audience, once again, seemed more than happy.

The constant hip thrusting, silly gagging, and the many ‘crotch’ jokes, were tedious, but somehow, the audience seemed to like them.

Rusty (Joanne Sawyer), Wendy-Jo (Natasha Brown), Urleen (Miracle Chance) and Ariel (Hannah Price), play everything over-the-top.  The only thing missing was a Dame!  However, when Hannah Price steps forward, and actually sings solo, she wowed the audience with her stunning vocals.  There is talent in the cast.  But while the characters are performed in bright Disney colours, the end effect is mostly bland shades of grey.

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Anyone looking for an evening out where you can sit in a crowded venue and sing along with Let’s Hear It For The Boy and Footloose will be happy. If your idea of a good time is to watch one of our very favourite pop idols get his gear off, then you’ll be tickled.  If you fancy watching an energetic, young cast racing around onstage grabbing at every instrument within reach while jiving, thrusting and joking around, then you are in for a good night.  Enjoy!

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This current UK Tour of Footloose is touring until the end of October.  Check out dates HERE.

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John Bowles
John Bowles, having started his career on Australian variety television at the age of ten, had notched up 300 hours of live national TV by the age of sixteen. As an adult he has gone on to star in many theatrical productions such as ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Cats’. He has produced, directed and written for television but admits his favourite role is as presenter, and he relishes the opportunity to talk to interesting show business people and tell their stories.