If you’re finding yourself sick of the heat and air-quality alerts of 2023, then boy oh boy does Countryside Community Theatre have a cool '80s throwback treat for you: their current production of Footloose.
While it has certainly been a hot minute since I watched the film version, the plot is much the same. Ren McCormick (a solidly endearing Jack Bevans) and his mother Ethel (the delightful Sarah Willie) relocate from Chicago to the tiny Texas town of Bomont. Ren finds it difficult adjusting to small-town life, especially considering the town prohibits all dancing. (This a reaction to a car accident a few years prior – because obviously, banning dances prevents teenagers from getting into car accidents.)
I was initially stunned that the stage adaptation opens with Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose” number, as it’s obviously the iconic movie’s conclusion. (As I was later reminded, the tune underscores the movie's opening credits, too.) Director Cindy Ramos’ production suffers, at first, from just too darn many people on stage. An overcrowded stage with more than a few dancers looking at their neighbor to ensure their dance moves are correct doesn’t enhance the production value much. Luckily, though, large group numbers throughout Footloose are fairly few and far between, leaving the show in the hands of the more-than-capable leads.
Bevan’s floppy hair and Chuck Taylors totally allow his Ren to stand out in a world of Western-wear and cowboy boots, but he’d stand out anyway with his excellent dance moves and quality vocals. While I don’t think the microphones on Sunday did anyone any real favors, Bevans didn’t fall victim to these issues. He was easy to understand, although the stage adaptation doesn’t leave much room for the developing of any deep relationships. After just one brief conversation, for instance, Ren was suddenly close friends with Willard (the enjoyable Nate Gaghagen).
As Ren acclimates to Bomont life, he begins to associate with reverend's daughter Ariel Moore (Peyton Reese) and her friends Rusty, Urleen, and Wendy Jo (respectively played by Rebekah Riewerts, Mallory Carslake, and Caroline Sieren). Ariel is the closest thing Bomont has to a rebel, much to the chagrin of her parents, but it’s odd that everything in the stage adaptation seems oversimplified; the stakes just don’t seem that high.
Even as Ariel sneaks out to hang with Chuck Cranston (Carter Jargo), who radiates handsome bad-boy energy when he appears on his motorcycle, they actually don’t do anything all that troublesome besides drink beer. Jargo’s song early in Act I, “The Girl Gets Around,” establishes the character firmly in the “no good” category, but also that he’s more a distraction than anything else, and then we don’t see him much for the rest of the show. There’s no “tractor chicken” on stage. But don’t anyone worry. “Holding Out for A Hero” is reallocated to Ariel and her girlfriends and is turned into a spectacle of red dresses. Thanks to music director Mitch Carter, this quartet of ladies has the hit song in good hands and these four are entertaining to watch together.
Kevin Hurley’s scenic design of Footloose is impressive: a graffiti train bridge that becomes every needed location throughout the production. Its gray-and-rusted color became the perfect, neutral backdrop so costumes could pop and draw focus – and with the show set deep in the heart of Texas in the '80s, costume designer Erin Emerle had her work cut out for her. Boy, did she succeed. Big hair, leg warmers, sparkles, and cowboy boots for days … it was all accounted for. It's unfortunate that stage makeup is such a specific art, because the black eyes in this production could use improvement. I totally get that they need to be easily removed for subsequent scenes, but the visible injuries suffered by both Ren and Ariel required oversize suspension of disbelief.
Lisa Tanner’s choreography shines, especially in Act II when Riewert’s Rusty is belting “Let’s Hear It for the Boy.” Rusty is on top of the bridge, while a group of featured female dancers is rocking out and a group of male dancers attempts to teach Willard to dance. There’s a lot to take in during this one scene, but rather than being too much, it balances out nicely.
Admittedly, every time one or both of the incredibly enjoyable Reese-and-Bevans pairing went to the Moore home, I winced because of the downstage-chair sight-line issues. But their characters both want more than Bomont currently offers, and while I don’t feel either had a ton of personal growth with the adults in their lives, by the time they sing “Almost Paradise” to and with each other, it almost doesn’t matter whether the town gets a dance or not. Ren and Ariel have already won in their own right.
I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Footloose's epic dance conclusion is the “Everybody cut footloose!” finale in which even the show’s stodgy adult chorus gets their groove on. Dancing, as it turns out, is the key to a fun time and, for the Countryside Community Theatre audience, the perfect way to kick off their Sunday shoes.
Countryside Community Theatre's Footloose runs at the North Scott High School Fine Arts Auditorium (200 South First Street, Eldridge IA) through July 9, and more information and tickets are available by visiting CountrysideQC.org.