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A CurtainUp Review Second Thoughts: Footloose

Song List
Go here for Susan Davidson's Review of Footloose when it opened at the Kennedy Center in DC. The story line, casting (with one exception), dance and song routines remain unchanged from what's outlined in that review. Unlike many big musicals which go tripping around the country after a successful New York opening, a Footloose tour was already in place before the 10/22/98 New York opening. Stops in this itinerary are: Cleveland (12/15/98) and in 1999: Green Bay, Wisconsin; Columbus, Ohio; and Nashville, Tennessee.
When Footloose jumpstarted its rebirth from a 1984 movie with a hit-making score to a high energy 6.5 million dollar musical at the Kennedy Center, Susan Davidson (who sandwiches CurtainUp reviews and features into her schedule as the Washingtonian's arts editor) was there. Now the musical has danced its way to the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Its arrival marks my third "Second Thoughts" on a show that traveled from DC to NYC. in less than six months.

I went to check out Proposals and Never the Sinner (See Links) to see whether I agreed with Les Gutman's thumbs up reviews and in the second instance, especially, I was delighted to find myself in total agreement (so much so that I went back to see the show yet another time in its second transfer to a larger Off-Broadway house). Footloose is the first transfer from the Beltway to the Great White Way where I'm taking a second look at a show that garnered a decidedly unecstatic DC review. In this case, my hope was that the show had been edited sufficiently (as Susan thought it might be) to allow a more upbeat second take.

Alas and alack, my hopes have been dashed! What was right in DC hasn't suddenly turned brass into tinfoil, but neither has director Walter Bobbie solidly re-soled this set full of dancing shoes. Footloose remain s a stage musical that is weaker than its never spectacularly wonderful source. Judging from the audience at the performance I attended the producers' ambitions to tap into an across-the-age-spectrum audience are likely to be only partially fulfilled. The people who bobbed up and down in their seats and sent the applause meter zooming indicate that the bulk of the ticket buyers for this show will be those who saw the movie as teenagers and now fall into that age range said to be alienated from the theater (many of whom are nevertheless to be found at downtown theaters putting on original nonmusical productions). Add to that (available cash permitting), today's teenagers and all the health club aerobics instructors who'll want to freshen up their routines with some of choreographer A.C. Ciulla's jumping, hip-hopping brand of all that jazz.

At any rate, if you compare the production notes and the song list (after the production notes), except for one song substitution and a new actor (Stephen Lee Anderson) in the pivotal adult role of the Reverend, everything except the venue and city remains as before. What Susan found right about the show remains right. What left her underwhelmed, hardly had me popping out of my seat cheering.

I agree that Jeremy Kushnier brings a nice mix of acting-dancing-singing talents to the role of the city kid plopped into a bible-belt town whose church leaders are cut from the same cloth as Jerry Falwell and whose parishioners could be kin to Judge Starr. And, yes, Tom Plotkin makes a fine country bumpkin who turns out to be less klutzy than he looks.

Does Stephen Lee Anderson bring more of a John Lithgow (the movie's preacher) fieriness to the role of the original Reverend? The answer here is no. Anderson has a strong voice but like his predecessor he is stuck inside a character who's had all the fire and brimstone hosed out of him in order to be more stageworthy -- more Father Knows Best than charismatic zealot. This applies to the plot in general. The potential edge of Bobbie's and Pitchford's alteration and expansion of the basic story line is blurrier rather than sharper.

I would also add that some of the key women should have protested at being given so little chance to show off their talents. Dee Hoty, the minister's wife, deserves more than one big song. Catherine Cox as Ren's mother gets to wear a few smart outfits that stand out from the ordinary teen clothes, but also has too little opportunity to sing or dance. The only females who get a fair share of the limelight -- (when compared to Hoty and Cox, more than that) -- are Rosalind Brown, Kathy Deitch and Stacy Francis who comprise a sort of comic relief Midwestern-Greek chorus. Francis, especially was quite good, especially in "Let's Hear It for the Boy" -- though a lot of the ensemble singing left a lot to be desired in the clear lyric delivery department.

John Lee Beatty, best known for his richly decorated sets (most recently and brilliantly in The Mystery of Irma Vep -- see link) has created an impressive number of visuals that are not just "colorful" (as Susan wrote) but wonderfully versatile. I particularly liked the way those yellow lockers in the school scenes flipped around, and the sudden appearance of the big bridge despite its somewhat obvious kinship to a scene in Saturday Night Live (the movie, not the musical).

As Susan hoped, Director Walter Bobbie has done some editing but from what I can see it amounts to a cut of some 15 minutes (another 15 wouldn't have hurt). Whatever its length, the show can't be accused of sluggishness. It keeps moving and whether it's your kind of dancing or not, you can't accuse this musical of not being a dance show. Whether it will dance on to the kind of success that had movie-to-musical critical flops like Grease and Beauty and the Beast thumb their noses at critics all the way to the bank, will depend as much on marketing savvy as anything else.

New York View of Neil Simon's Proposals
New York View of Never the Sinner
The Mystery of Irma Vep designed by John Lee Beatty
Chicago directed by Walter Bobbie

Book by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie based on the original screenplay by Dean Pitchford
Music by Tom Snow
Lyrics by Dean Pitchford
Additional music by Eric Carmen, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins, Jim Steinman
Directed by Walter Bobbie
Starring Stephen Lee Anderson, Dee Hoty, Jeremy Kushnier, Jennifer Laura Thompson; with Staci Francis, Tom Plotkin, Catherine Cox, Billy Hartung
Robin Baxter, Rosalind Brown, Catherine Campbell, Kathy Deitch, John Deyle,  John Hillner, Adam LeFevre, Donna Lee Marshall and Nick Sullivan, plus a 24-member ensemble
Choreography: A.C. Ciulla
Sets: John Lee Beatty
Costumes: Toni-Leslie James
Lights: Ken Billington
Sound: Tony Meola
Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 West 46th Street (212/ 307-4100) Performances begin 10/2/98; opens 10/22/98 Reviewed 10/23/98 by Elyse Sommer
Closing date: July 2, 2000

Footloose Song List
Act One
"Footloose" -- Ren and Company
"On Any Sunday" -- Rev. Shaw, Moore and Company
"The Girl Gets Around" -- Chuck, Ariel, Travis and Lyle
"I Can't Stand Still" -- Ren
"Somebody's Eyes" -- Rusty, Wendy Jo, Urleen and Company
"Learning To Be Silent" -- Vi, Ethel
"Holding Out For A Hero" -- Ariel, Rusty, Wendy Jo and Urleen
"Somebody's Eyes" (reprise) -- Rusty, Wendy Jo and Urleen "Heaven Help Me" -- Shaw
"I'm Free/Heaven Help Me/On Any Sunday" -- Ren, Shaw and Company
Act Two
Instead "Let's Make Believe We're In Love" by Irene and the Country Kickers (substituted for "Still Rockin'" between the first preview and opening)
"Let's Hear It For the Boy" -- Rusty and Company
"Can You Find It In Your Heart?" -- Vi
"Mama Says" -- Willard and the Boys
"Almost Paradise" -- Ren and Ariel
"Dancing Is Not A Crime" -- Ren and the Boys
"I Confess" -- Shaw
"On Any Sunday" (reprise) -- Company
"Can You Find It In Your Heart?" (reprise) -- Shaw
"Footloose" (reprise) -- Company

©Copyright 1998, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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