It was 30 years ago this past January that the junior and senior classes of an Oklahoman high school asked for permission to hold a prom. The year was 1980 and in most places in America this wouldn’t have been an issue, but this was Elmore, a town that had outlawed public dancing since its founding almost a century earlier.
At the time, a local Pentecostal preacher was quoted in People magazine as saying that “no good has ever come from a dance.” Another resident forecast a surge in teenage pregnancies, “because when boys and girls breathe in each other’s ears, that’s the next step.”
With those dire warnings about the slippery slope of dance freshly planted in my head, I sat in the audience at the Performance Arts Theatre at Capilano University, awaiting the opening bars of Exit 22’s production of Footloose.
The show begins with Chicago teen Ren McCormack (Nolan Wilson) and his mother Ethel (Emily Fraser) moving to the rural Texas town of Bomont, after Ren’s father leaves his family ‘to find himself.’ Ren has difficulty adapting to small-town life and the town has similar trouble adapting to him. He soon discovers that Bomont, under the direction of Rev. Shaw Moore (Sean Parsons), has banned all dancing within city limits. It’s left to Ren and his friends to try and help a town move on from a tragic past.
Footloose was adapted in 1998 as a stage musical from the 1984 film of the same name, which in turn was loosely based on the real-life events in Elmore, OK. The musical was only a moderate success, but has taken on a healthy second life through high school and college productions. Most recently, there were plans to make a film version of the musical starring Zac Efron, but that project appears to be dead in the water.
That film’s producers have apparently had second thoughts, and I soon found out why: the stage musical itself is a complete wash. Maybe those naysaying dance prohibitionists were onto something afterall. It is not an exaggeration to say that it seems unlikely that there is anyone who could spin gold from the dross that is Footloose.
The dialogue is trite and patronising, and the majority of the adult characters are shallow and unlikeable. Despite the inherent limitations of the material, the all-student cast does an admirable job of salvaging what they can. The onstage talent is evident, even if it is repeatedly eclipsed by the abysmal script.
Jak Barradell (Altar Boyz, White Christmas) as Ren’s best friend Willard is a tumbling and dancing machine. Brittany Scott as Willard’s love interest Rusty, belts a spirited rendition of “Let’s Hear it For The Boy.” Other notable cast members to look out for in the future include Kathy Fitzpatrick, Allison Fligg, and Morgan Dunne.
Promising actor Sean Parsons’ (Rent) portrayal of Rev. Moore doesn’t quite ring true. The good reverend is frustrated with his daughter Ariel’s (Megan Bayliss) rebellious ways throughout the show but for the most part does little more than shake his head disappointedly at her antics. When he finally hits her in a moment of anger, it comes without warning and with little explanation.
Not too long after that, Ariel sports a black eye courtesy of her dropout ex-boyfriend Chuck Cranston played to a sleazy tee by Victor Hunter. Neither of these incidents receives a satisfactory resolution nor are they addressed further.
When Ariel reveals what is supposed to be a big secret to Ren, I doubt there was a single person in the audience who hadn’t already figured it out.
That is the heart of the problem with this musical: there is no dramatic tension, no surprises. There are lots of little scenes and lots of movement, but we are given few chances and even less reason to care about the characters. The show is also hampered by director Gillian Barber’s unfocused staging, which is quite literally all over the place.
The energetic dancing and vocals showcase a wealth of potential and the youthful cast gives it their all, but there isn’t enough talent in the world to overcome this lame duck of a show.
Exit 22 presents Footloose until Apr 3, 2010 in the Performing Arts Theatre at Capilano University, 2055 Purcell Way, North Vancouver, in the Birch Building. For more information, or to buy tickets, phone 604-990-7810 or email email@example.com.