Peterborough New Theatre
16th March 2022
The unmistakable intro to Kenny Loggins’ megahit “Footloose” is practically guaranteed to make toes start tapping and shoulders start shimmying. Kevin Bacon famously couldn’t keep his feet still in the 1984 film that solidified his career, and it went on to inspire a stage musical in 1998 which has seen various incarnations on both sides of the pond. Always popular with audiences due to its infectious soundtrack, the musical is back on our stages again this year, where it’s playing in Peterborough this week.
The well-known story sees big-city teenager Ren McCormack sent to live in small-town Bomont with his mother, after she can no longer afford to stay in Chicago due to her husband walking out on the family. On arriving in Bomont, Ren discovers it’s a town where dancing has been prohibited by local reverend Shaw Moore, whose son tragically died several years before in a car accident on his way home from a dance. Ren meets and falls in love with the reverend’s daughter Ariel, and tries to rally support to bring dancing back to the community, but Moore isn’t an easy man to argue with.
As seems to be the way with touring productions in a post-Covid world, the set is relatively simple, and Director Racky Plews has used an “actor-musician” approach for this production, whereby the actors play instruments to perform the score when they’re not speaking. This doesn’t suit most productions unless the creation of music is intrinsic to the script and story (e.g. Once), and does occasionally jar here, but is understandable in the current production climate, helping to keep costs lower. For the most part, the instruments don’t too strange, and the sound and energy they help create more than makes up for it.
Score-wise, ‘Footloose’ is a mix of several iconic 80s numbers mixed with original material by Tom Snow and Dean Pitchford. The famous hits sound great and obviously go down well, and the original songs are mostly winners, with only a couple of clunkers (unfortunately both given to Darren Day and Holly Ashton as the reverend as his wife). But mostly it’s a toe-tapping selection, and the final megamix reminds you of all the good stuff and sends you out on a high.
A show like ‘Footloose’ requires an energy level turned up to 11 to really sell it, and the cast really deliver on this. Joshua Hawkins is a winningly likeable lead, endearing the audience to Ren McCormack within seconds of being on stage, and showing off an impressive voice throughout. His dance moves are also excellent, really demonstrating how Ren “Can’t Stand Still”. He looks a little less comfortable in the show’s more romantic moments, the “Almost Paradise” section in particular, but overall he does a fantastic job. Fans of Jake Quickenden will also be pleased, with the TV personality turning in a great performance as local yokel Willard. His timing of Willard’s dry simplicity is brilliant and his “Mama Says” number is a real crowdpleaser. The ladies also impress, with recent graduate Lucy Munden turning in a great performance as the preacher’s tearaway daughter Ariel, and belting the heck out of “Holding Out For A Hero”. Oonagh Cox, another recent graduate, also does well as Rusty and leads “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” brilliantly. Samantha Richards and Jess Barker also offer strong support and make the most out of their one-liners.
The pace does drop during the scenes at the Moore’s home, and the lacklustre songs that the Moore’s are given to sing don’t help, but overall ‘Footloose’ is a lot of fun, with lively and engaging performances. It also comes as a timely reminder that after all we’ve been through, now is a perfect time for all of us to start dancing again, which ‘Footloose’ certainly provides a great reason to do so.
‘Footloose’ plays at the Peterborough New Theatre until Saturday 19th March before continuing its UK tour. Performance runtime 2.5 hours include interval.