STAGE: Footloose – Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, Durban
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
HAVING started out as a popular 1984 film with Kevin Bacon, which spawned an inferior big-screen remake in 2011, Footloose became a Broadway musical in 1988, reached London’s West End in 2006 and was first staged in Durban three years ago, with Themi Venturas as director.
Now, after that 2014 Young Performers’ production by Venturas enjoyed only a short run, the show has been revived by the same company, sponsored by RCL Foods. And, as usual with these youth musicals, the show unites local teens for a production that makes use of a professional crew and also features one or two professional guest performers.
The pro actors this year are Arnie Field and Sarah Heron, who join 25 teens chosen for the musical after auditions with pupils from high schools throughout KwaZulu-Natal. They are all under the wing of Daisy Spencer, with the ailing Venturas, who is fighting cancer, as production supervisor.
A longtime choreographer of these annual youth musicals – who can forget her work in the standout, Michael Jackson-inspired Can You Feel It? – Spencer co-choreographs here with Jarryd Watson, and also takes on directing for the first time this year… and kudos to her for a job well done.
Better cast and with seemingly more warmth and spark that the 2014 production, this Footloose is of particular note for an outstanding lead in amiable Joshua Milne, who might be remembered as teacup Chip in KickstArt’s award-winning production of Beauty and the Beast
He is a confident and articulate actor, a very good dancer with a fine speaking voice and a passable singing voice. He oozes charm and appeal as Ren McCormick.
Ren is a bright but troubled boy who has moved to the sleepy, conservative town of Bomont with his mother, Ethel (sweet-voiced Sarah Donkin), after his father abandons them.
Ren clashes with many of the townsfolk, not least the strict town spokesman, Reverend Shaw Moore, who has outlawed all dancing in the town.
The preacher, who faces his own demons, is played by Arnie Field, who is in particularly good voice. How nice to see him on stage again.
Ren and his new best friend, country lad and mommy’s boy Will (played with gusto, amusement and a strong guttural accent by a delightful Rae du Plooy) set out to try to convince the preacher to change his mind about dancing,
In so doing, Ren starts to fall for the preacher’s rebellious daughter, Ariel, played with aplomb by strong-voiced Leah Mari. He also discovers a tragedy that affected most in the town years earlier.
The production has been given a South African setting and unfolds on a stage where projections provide scenery changes on the wall space above a long raised platform, under one side of which nestles Durban’s The Reals band.
The four versatile band members provide excellent live accompaniment. Back-slaps for guitarist Barry Thomson, bassist Jason Andrew, drummer Mali Sewell and, most especially, keyboardist and the show’s musical director, Dawn Selby.
Footloose offers some very well executed dance moves – much of it quite frenetic – and includes among its songs the hits Holding Out For a Hero and Let’s Hear it For the Boy and, of course, the title track, originally a hit for Kenny Loggins.
Mention must also be made of the show’s vocal highpoint, the beautifully delivered, poignant Learning To Be Silent, in which Ren’s mother, Ariel and Ariel’s mother, Vi (deftly played by Sarah Heron, in fine voice throughout) individually reflect on their lot in life.
Also of note are the catchy Somebody’s Eyes, with cast members in a slinky dance routine performed in dappled lighting; Field’s poignant Heaven Help Me solo; and the showstopping My Ma Says, an amusing song and dance with the comical Will in the spotlight.
Some wooden acting here and there notwithstanding, the show is slickly paced, enjoyable and earned a standing ovation on opening night.
Performances of Footloose are from Tuesday to Saturday at 7pm, with 2.30pm Saturday and Sunday matinees, until September 17.
Tickets cost R100 each on Tuesday and Wednesday, and R150 for performances from Thursday to Sunday (concessions R130 for children and pensioners). Booking is at Computicket outlets.