Review: Footloose at Royal Court Liverpool ***
It’s the role that made actor Kevin Bacon famous – the disaffected city boy trapped in small town America where having fun is banned by law.
The 1984 film Footloose also spawned a slew of chart hits – Let’s Hear It For the Boy and Holding Out for a Hero among them, and a stage musical version followed in 1998, again pitting outsider Ren against the wary folk of Bomont in his desire to cut loose and dance.
This current UK touring production is the first time Selladoor (the international company formed by two LIPA graduates) has brought a show to the Royal Court, rather than the Empire, and in general terms Footloose the Musical seems like a good fit for the Roe Street theatre.
In practical terms however, it feels a tight fit, with the set looking a little cramped on the Royal Court’s stage – the singing and dancing compacted within a tight space at the front of the scenery.
The bright young cast are mostly quadruple threats; they act, sing, dance and in addition play any number of instruments with energy, skill and gusto, making the punchy live music created on stage one of the real successes of the show.
They also produce a big vocal sound and some excellent harmonies, particularly rebellious parson’s daughter Ariel (played by Grace Lancaster on opening night) and her posse of friends.
It takes a while to really get going however, finally lifting off with a thumping Holding Out for a Hero some two thirds of the way through the first half.
In the second, Ren (Joshua Dowen) woos the girl, teaches gormless mate Willard (a goofy, buffed-up Gareth Gates) to dance, and takes on the townsfolk in a showdown where he famously quotes Ecclesiastes – “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” – to try and win their backing for a hoe down.
Sadly, at this point Dowen experienced every performer’s worst nightmare, appearing to go completely blank and being unable to find his way back in to the speech despite repeated prompting by cast members, rendering the scene awkward rather than stirring.
Of course, in the final minutes hard hearts are melted, warring factions come together in understanding, and the momentum builds towards a rousing reprise of Kenny Loggins’ toe-tapping Footloose. Or at least that’s what is scripted.
At this point on opening night, sadly an audience member was taken ill, necessitating medical assistance, and creating an unfortunate hiatus in the show's drive towards a triumphant finale.
Leaving aside the problems of the evening, Footloose is a solid show with great live music, but it somehow just needs to kick off the Sunday shoes if it really wants to tear up this town.