Review – Footloose

July 27, 2012 | By More

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Edinburgh Playhouse
Review by Thom Dibdin

The chorus of the seventh Edinburgh Playhouse Stage Experience in rehearsal for Footloose. July 2012

The chorus in rehearsal for Footloose.

While most of the world was glued to the box last night for the multimillion pound opening spectacle of the Olympics, a packed Edinburgh Playhouse witnessed a sparkling, thrilling and, ultimately enthralling opening night of Footloose.

The 123 kids of the seventh Edinburgh Playhouse Stage Experience might not have smoothed off every single rough edge in their two week rehearsal period, but they certainly know how to tell a story in music and dance.

Footloose is the musical version of the 1984 movie. It tells the story of teenage Ren, played by 17 year old Ronan Burns, who is forced to quit the lights and dance clubs of Chicago when his dad walks out.

He and his mum (Seonaid Stevenson) wind up in the deadbeat backwater town of Beaumont. And just to make this hick-town twice as dull, it turns out that the local council has banned all dancing after a tragic accident killed four young folk on the way back from an out-of-town dance.

Right from the opening title number the true quality of this massive ensemble – there are a hundred in the chorus alone – is obvious. Big swathes of unison dancing, with attention to pointy-toed detail even from those right at the back, ensures that even if the sound isn’t always sharp, the dancing is.

The segue into On Any Sunday, with the versatile Ali Colam as the Reverent Shaw getting all heavy with his congregation and welcoming Ren and his mum to the town, flows smoothly and allows the back-story to come right through. Indeed, this might not be the most inventively choreographed production of Footloose seen on the amateur stage in recent years, but it certainly pays full attention to the detail.

Unfortunately the energy levels are not sustained all the way through the first half. The scenes where the Reverend’s wayward daughter Ariel (Rebecca Scott) hangs out with here ner-do-well boyfriend Chuck (Peter Vint) and his pals just didn’t quite find the power behind the music. Vint wasn’t helped by an escaped head mic on the opening night, but he still never quite pins the role.

Outstanding moments

Ali Colam as the Reverent Shaw (left) and other principals of the seventh Edinburgh Playhouse Stage Experience in rehearsal for Footloose. July 2012.

Ali Colam as the Reverent Shaw (left) and other principals in rehearsal for Footloose. July 2012.

There are some outstanding moments, however. And not just with the big ensembles. Learning To Be Silent gives Seonaid Stevenson and Mari McGinlay, as the Reverend’s wife Vi, the chance to inject some bitter intensity into the show. Which is only magnified when they are joined by Rebecca Scott, for a trio which links the generations. Great stuff.

Part of Footloose’s appeal lies in the structure of its relationships. Ren and Arial’s emotional but chaste attachment compares easily with the sense of loss Vi experiences from her husband’s introspection. But both are given an added piquancy by virtue of the faltering affair between Ariel’s pal Rusty and Ren’s pal Willard.

Rusty, in particular, gets all the big numbers. And Charlotte Jones knows exactly how to take songs such as (Holding Out For A) Hero, Somebody’s Eyes and Let’s Hear It For The Boy and deliver them in a musical theatre environment. She can obviously tear them up – and gets to do so during the finale Megamix – but she doesn’t force them or showboat while still succeeding in reaching the back of the vast space of the Playhouse.

Willard is easily the show’s great character role – and Adam Davidson makes the most of it. There is still room for him to work the audience even more, but Davidson holds it well and easily convinces in Willard’s failings. And when he does get to dance and sing Mama Says, it is delivered with style and excellent comic timing.

Ironically, it is only when Rusty and Willard do eventually get to walk off holding hands, that Jones and Davidson fail to convince.

That is, ultimately, a minor detail in a show that just grows and grows over its second half. As it draws to its climax, and the truth of the Reverend’s loss becomes known, so this is a production which takes on great maturity and understanding – both in its portrayal of emotional depth and in its telling of a story.

Who needs the Olympics when you’ve got emotional stuff like this on tap!

Shows 2.30pm and 7.30pm Saturday 28 July 2012.
Full details on the Playhouse website: www.atgtickets.com

ENDS

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