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Footloose

By New York City
If you want to know if Footloose is a hit, all you have to do is sit in the audience: the enthusiasm, the energy, the cheering, and the spontaneous standing ovation all confirm that this is the latest in a string of musicals blasted by the critics but embraced by the public. (Jekyll and Hyde, Smokey Joe's Cafe, and even Cats are some that came before.)

Footloose is a happy, entertaining, and entirely successful enterprise. There aren't many musicals in town that can boast even one or two genuinely show-stopping numbers; Footloose has four, delivered one after another at the start of its exciting second act. The crowd eats them up, and the more than three dozen talented performers on stage respond with zest and vigor. A good time is had by all.

Sure, it's a victory of showmanship over material. The book, based on the very popular 1985 film, concerns a small American town named Bomont where dancing has been made illegal because of a tragic car accident a few years before which resulted in the deaths of four teenagers. The local preacher, an earnest but reactionary fellow named Shaw Moore, is behind this ordinance; his authority is unchallenged by the good people of Bomont until a young man named Ren McCormick arrives in town. Ren is a high-spirited teenager from Chicago, and as he tries to deal with his new surroundings and the recent divorce of his parents, he finds himself at the center of a controversy that culminates in his appearing before the town council to urge the repeal of the no-dancing law.

It's pretty trivial stuff, but authors Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie are successful in making a few key points about the importance of communication among parents and children, and the need for young people to indulge in fun but wholesome activities (like dancing). The book's most important function is to provide a framework for a succession of high-energy musical numbers, many of them familiar to us from the movie. The show opens with the title song, and quickly pulses its way through "The Girl Gets Around," "Holding Out for a Hero," and "I'm Free," which closes the first act with an exciting dance sequence set in then high school gym.

Act Two blasts us with those four show-stoppers that I mentioned. First comes "Let's Hear it for the Boy," soulfully sung by the big-voiced Stacy Francis and funkily danced by loose-limbed Tom Plotkin. "Mama Says" (which is not from the film) follows, a broad comic specialty for the delightful Mr. Plotkin. Footloose climaxes with the sticky Eric Carmen ballad "Almost Paradise," beautifully sung by Jennifer Laura Thompson under an impressively mammoth railroad bridge which has been exquisitely lit by Ken Billington to show its pair of young lovers reflected in the water below. And then there's the inventive new rap-flavored number "Dancing is Not a Crime," in which Ren argues his case against Reverend Moore to the City Council.

The score also includes a terrific choral number called "Somebody's Eyes," which has a haunting melody and inspires some arresting staging by director Walter Bobbie and choreographer A.C. Ciulla. And there are a couple of pleasant standard-issue ballads for Dee Hoty, who plays Reverend Moore's smart but put-upon wife.

Ms. Hoty, by the way, has a fairly thankless role but is nevertheless a classy, elegant presence in the show. Watch her kick up her heels (at last) in the final scene and you'll understand how invaluable she really is. The other standouts in the company are the aforementioned Ms. Francis and Mr. Plotkin, who are fun to watch and listen to; they ought to have more to do in the first act. At the performance I attended, Jeremy Kushnier, who stars as Ren, was out; his understudy, a fine young singing actor named Jim Ambler, did a fine job, though he lacks Mr. Kushnier's teen-idol looks and charisma.

There's stuff that's wrong with Footloose, and plenty that's pedestrian. But there's so much that's right and so much that works that I have no cause to quibble. This is a musical that grabs its audience from the start and never lets go. So we may as well all give in--and cut loose.


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