Footloose the Musical (Richmond Theatre)

Footloose the Musical  (Richmond Theatre, until May 20th)

If your toes aren’t tapping within minutes of the start of the high-energy Footloose the Musical  then you need to find a dictionary and look up the phrase “cut loose” and return to the auditorium in shame.

Based on the popular 1984 movie, the show enjoyed a big sell-out tour last year and is on the road again, with many of the same excellent cast, for another round Britain whizz until the autumn.

These screen to stage versions of films that have wowed the box office and become cult classics are almost guaranteed good audiences wanting a great night out. Packed with well-known songs (plus a couple of real duds) and slick musical numbers all the boxes are bound to be ticked.

Footloose certainly earns its place on the list of pleasurable crowd-pleasers. From the infectious opening number – a vigorous interpretation of the Kenny Loggins title track – the show springs around like an excitable jumping bean. If the audience is left breathless the cast must be gasping for air every time they leave the stage.

Don’t get me wrong: this is lightweight fare, and if candy floss were handed out in the interval it couldn’t be more saccharine. What should be the powerful story of a small American Bible belt town tied to a law forbidding dancing after a tragedy five years earlier and a rebellious teenager determined to change it becomes a frothy concoction relying on cheesy good humour, Matt Cole’s impressive choreography, and the triple threat performers very ably singing, dancing and playing their own instruments.

But there’s nothing wrong with that in the slightest when, as happens here, there’s such a strong company, a director (Racky Plews) whose clear enjoyment of every musical and dramatic moment is contagious, and the stage is set alive with the sound of music and pounding feet.

There’s some neat little touches as the actors move from their characters to their instruments: there’s something rather moving about pastor’s daughter Ariel (a tremendous Hannah Price) accompanying her mum’s haunting plea for tolerance and understanding, for example., and the guitars played by two of the leading young townsfolk (Tomas Wostenholme and Dominic Gee Burch) somehow become extensions of their wild personalities.

A tireless Joshua Dowen is outstanding as Ren, the  town newcomer whose mission is to break through  years of prejudice and sadness; Maureen Nolan makes the most of her role as the tender and open-minded pastor’s wife (and doubles as an amusing school principal, of whom it would have been nice to see more); Reuven Gershon is an authoritative Reverend, though draws the short straw with his musical numbers; and there is instant fizziness whenever the very likeable Emma Fraser, Gracie Lai, and Laura Sillett  are on as Ariel’s friends.

Along with Maureen Nolan, Gareth Gates is touted as the star of the show. While certainly an unfair billing when compared to the quality of the rest of the cast, he is certainly in exceptionally good form as Willard, the simple-minded sidekick. He shows a talent for comedy timing and, for good or ill, you will never forget the image of gold hot pants presented by the Pop Idol runner-up in the song Holding Out for a Hero.

There were some lighting issues on first night, which were occasionally distracting and must have been frustrating for the cast, but nothing was able to diminish their fiery and feisty frenzy.

Footloose is one of those good-natured shows that will appeal to those who remember the original 80s film as well as a new generation of audiences who appreciate great entertainment and pulsating music performed exuberantly. Above all, it’s the perfect way – in the words of the title song – to lose your blues.

David Guest

Photo: Matt Martin