Thursday, October 20, 2005

Footloose - Carousel Dinner Theater

Fine ‘Footloose’ lets loose at Carousel

Several years ago a new trend hit Broadway. Rather than develop a musical with an untested plot line, producers turned to films as a source of getting audiences into the theatre. Three such shows were ‘FAME’ ‘SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER’ and ‘FOOTLOOSE.”
‘FOOTLOOSE’ is now on stage at Carousel Dinner Theatre.

Based on the1984 film which has become a cult cinema sensation and insured stardom for Kevin Bacon, the story contains a simple, if unlikely plot line. Ren MacCormack lives in Chicago. He is into the club scene and is leading a pleasant life until his father suddenly walks out on the family. Along with his mother, he is forced to move to Bomont, a backwater town where his aunt and uncle live. Streetsmart but gentle Ren is enrolled at the local high school. As the new kid in town he is given a hard time by both the students and the faculty. He is appalled to discover the town's adults, under the guidance of the local preacher, have imposed a law against "public dancing" and rock music. Ren sets about to change things, falling in love with the preacher's daughter Ariel in the process. As in all good musical theatre fairy tales...the happy ever-after ending is achieved.

‘FOOTLOOSE THE MUSICAL’ came into being in 1998 with music by Tom Snow, lyrics by Dean Pitchford and book by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbi. Pritchard wrote the original screenplay. Additional music was contributed by Eric Carmen, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins and Jim Stein.

Unlike ‘FAME,’ ‘FOOTLOOSE’ gives the audience the movie songs it expects to hear, and unlike ‘SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER,’ it complements those songs with newly written, honest-to-goodness songs that support the plot. The music doesn't exactly break new ground, but it makes for a good listen.

Light plot, non-complicated book, the musical should be a snap to stage, right? Wrong. It is not easy to mount. There are four teenage leads surrounded by an ensemble of approximately 25 including a gaggle of adults. They must all sing, dance and act.

Carousel has been fortunate on two levels. It has the show’s Broadway director and it has cast performers who can perform at a highly satisfying level. Director/choreographer AC Ciulla has created a production that works well and choreography which shines. The cast performs that choreography with pizazz, especially the male dancers.

Pleasantly, your first impression of the cast will probably be, "My goodness, how young and how talented." None of the usual thirty-year old Broadway gypsies playing high-school students. And, none of the local high school kids, not quite ready for prime time, trying to play themselves. It freshens the whole evening.

Mike Backes, playing Ren, is both physically attractive and talented. His singing and dancing abilities are impressive. He is totally believable in the role. Of course, the fact that he did the national tour of ‘FOOTLOOSE’ as Ren doesn’t hurt. His version of “I Can’t Stand Still” is fine.

Nicki Scalera is a beautiful Ariel. She is rebellious and sexy, but never loses the expected basic decency and innocence of a preacher’s daughter. Her voice is lovely. It is unfortunate that, as an accomplished dancer, she isn’t given more opportunity to strut her stuff. Her singing of “Almost Paradise” with Backes is wonderful.

There's an effective girl trio (Vanessa Ray, Amanda Flynn and LaQuet Sharnell), so typical of the era, and a wonderful, funny red-neck boy, Willard, played to perfection by Robert Koutras, who basically steals the show.

Clevelanders know the name of Paul Floriano from his many local roles. He does a nice job of making Rev.
Moore believable and vulnerable. This is a hard job because the character of the vulnerable but hard-edged “bad guy” is not well written. Marci Reid, as Ren’s mother, and SuEllen Estey as the reverend’s wife, both have strong singing voices and excellent acting skills. Their version of “Learning to be Silent” is excellent as is Estey’s solo “Can You Find It In Your Heart?”

The sets, lighting and costumes are functional and well designed. The musical accompaniment is excellent.

Show highlights include the creatively choreographed opening number, “I’m Free/Heaven help Me,” “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” and the finale.

Capsule Judgment Carousel’s ‘FOOTLOOSE’ may not be the greatest of theatre vehicles, but this production is well worth seeing. It harkens back to the good old days of musicals when nice music, wonderful dancing and a light but satisfying story line, all packaged together in a well-directed show, were all that was required to make audience’s happy.