The OI Review: Footloose

The Springfield Little Theatre is kicking off their Sunday shoes for a production of the musical version of Footloose…and you should kick off your shoes with them.

The musical, which was adapted for the stage and has songs written by the writer of the movie, Dean Pitchford, is relatively faithful to the movie. You’ll hear all the songs you know and love: the title track, “Almost Paradise”, “Let’s Hear It For The Boy”, “Holding Out For A Hero”, and more. The production is high-energy, with plenty of dancing, and some very solid performances from the cast.

The ladies really stole the show as they brought the strongest, richest performances.

The star of the show is Austen McGranahan, who plays Ariel, daughter of the Reverend Shaw. When she is on the stage, she owns the stage. The price of admission is worth seeing her performance on its own.

The presence she brings to the role hits the full range of the character from the daughter who truly loves her minister father but is completely frustrated with his overbearing demands to the young woman who is dying to get out into the world to make her own way. The depth of her emotional range is what makes her so believable in the part; you can feel her performance. Vocally, she outshines everyone else in the cast.

In fact, there are times that when she’s performing with the trio of her “friends” Rusty, Wendy Jo, and Urleen, that you forget there are other performers on the stage. When the quartet performs “Holding Out For A Hero” you really don’t notice the dozens of dancers behind them. It’s a testament to how well they dominate the stage.

Austen McGranahan (in red) and the trio of Kassandra Wright, Zoe Hamilton, and Emme Mausey own the stage during “Holding Out For A Hero”

And the actress playing Rusty, Kassandra Wright, brings an almost equal weight to her performance as McGranahan. In fact, she’s reminds you of a different Ariel: she’s Lori Singer (Ariel from the original movie) to McGranahan’s Julianne Hough (Ariel from the remake.) The two of them on stage together just command your attention and their performances are worthy of that attention.

The third female performer that dominates her time on the stage is Micha Pelkey as Vi, the wife of the Reverend and mother of Ariel. She not only has excellent comedic timing for the one liners she gets to deliver, when she’s in the more serious moments you can also feel the depth of her emotions. It’s not often you walk away noticing a secondary character as one of the high points of the performances, but Pelkey gives that kind of effort.

The women really outshine the men in the cast, who all seem to be holding back except for Decker Ames’ performance as Ren’s friend Willard. (If you’ve seen the movie, he’s the guy Ren teaches to dance.)

Patrick Sturm, who’s making his Springfield Little Theatre debut, does a fine job in the lead role of Ren, and in the scenes where there is a more comedic tone he does a great job with his comedic timing.

I wanted a little more attitude from him in the opening half of the show; a little more of the “big city arrogance” that a kid from Chicago would bring to a rural small town. He also didn’t really open up into the emotional side of the more dramatic parts; when he’s not being funny it’s like he wants to keep things on an even keel. In his scenes with McGranahan, there were times it seemed like he wasn’t really that interested in her because of that even keel emotional level he maintained in those scenes.

It’s not the best analogy, but I couldn’t help thinking while watching his performance I wanted a little more Superman and a little less Clark Kent. That little splash of attitude would really take the performance from above average to really good.

The showdown at the City Council meeting between Patrick Sturm’s Ren (pink shirt, left) and Robert Reed’s Reverend Shaw (in suit, right)

The same kind of need for a little “more” also fits onto Robert Reed’s performance as Reverend Shaw. It’s not that the performance is bad at all, and by the time you get three-quarters of the way through the show when the transformation of his character takes place the performance fits very well, but I wanted to see a little more arrogance on his part at the beginning.

The transformation of the character in the second half where Reverend Shaw sees the error of his ways, repents and changes is effective, but if Reed brought a more arrogant “Holy roller” bravado to his role early in the play, especially in the opening sermon he delivers, it would make that transformation even more dramatic and have a more impactful effect upon the audience.

The choreography for the show deserves a huge salute. Angi Black’s work with the dancers was tremendously effective in that you didn’t really notice them when you weren’t supposed to notice them for the most part. The fact they were such a fantastic enhancement to the show, adding depth to the dance scenes, is a credit to the ensemble. In fact, there was only one point where their actions seems a little distracting; in the “I’m Free” section where the cast is in the high school gym, a few of the dancers are waving around jump ropes and it makes you look at them rather than the cast because you wonder if they’re going to hit somebody with them.

And the band? Well, Parker Payne, Danielle Hardin, Becky Wells, Drew Webber, Matt Schmitz, and Blake Richter did the music of Eric Carmen, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins, and Jim Steinman proud. (Yes, rock and roll fans, the Red Rocker Sammy Hagar had music in Footloose.)

The show’s technical crew also pulled off an almost flawless job; the only real technical issue seemed to be times when the ensemble was singing with one of the main characters leading the song; the ensemble would drown out the solo vocalist in the sound mix.

Overall, Beth Domann’s direction has brought the last full production of Springfield Little Theatre’s 2018-2019 season a very worthy closing show, one well worth your time and the price of admission, and it sets up high expectations for next season.

(Photos courtesy Mike Williams & Springfield Little Theatre)

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