By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III “The People’s Critic”
[All photos by Trevor Hall Photography. Click any photo to enlarge.]
It seems to be happening bit by bit. The pre-pandemic world we once knew is creeping its way back toward the hoped-for goal of “normal.” Last weekend’s opening of the 1998 musical, FOOTLOOSE, (based on the 1984 film of the same name), really brightened a rainy Sunday afternoon, and is now rocking the room for The Players Theatre Company at Conroe’s Owen Theater. The fan base was out in force for the matinee, and every member of the well-attended audience respectfully wore a mask throughout the performance. It was a small price to pay for the fun that awaited them in this joyous edition, beautifully directed by Adam Isbell, and stunningly choreographed by Jodie Schrier.
This Broadway production was originally adapted for the stage by Walter Bobbie & Dean Pitchford (Based on his original screenplay). It features Lyrics by Mr. Pitchford, and the music of Tom Snow. The cheerful plot begins when a boy named Ren McCormack (Carson Rapsilver), and his mother, Ethel (Courtney Berry), find themselves abandoned in Chicago by a runaway dad when Ren’s father disappears. This requires them to move in with a distant aunt and uncle in a small southern town amusingly called, “Bomont,” and sounding just like a certain Texas town more familiar to us all. We get our first look at the large ensemble cast as the action begins on one of the many simple and effective scenic/set designs of Michael & Jamie Glass. The sets are always nicely framed by a background design of the town’s river bridge and a large ranch country windmill, and this opening scene depicts a subway station and surrounding street scene as folks get out of work for the day during the title song, the lively and acrobatic opening number, “Footloose.” It is clear from the start that a talented cast is very ready for action.
As often happens for a “new kid in town,” Ren runs up against a few mean classmates at his new high school, especially the ornery and abusive, Chuck Cranston (Jake Teal in an appropriately sinister performance). Chuck thinks of the Rev. Shaw Moore’s daughter, Ariel (Madison Mapes), as his own personal property, and he resents the arrival of cocky Ren, who in his black leather jacket, reminds one a bit of the old Fonzie character in the “Happy Days” series. But Ren does find one new pal, the amusingly shy and goofy, Willard (Kyle Clevenger).
Meanwhile, Rev. Moore (Dallas Hiett) is still trying to come to terms with the death of his son Bobby five years earlier when, following a dance party, the car he was in with some teenage friends went off the town bridge, drowning them all in the river. Hence, the reverend is not fond of his party-loving daughter dating a delinquent like Chuck, and correspondingly, Ariel resents her over-protective dad for his restrictions on her personal life. Joan Hodges gives a sensitive performance as Ariel’s mother, Vi, as she tries to navigate the strained relationship of her daughter and husband. She beautifully performs the tender and reflective, “Learning to Be Silent,” which seemed reminiscent of Sondheim’s beautiful, “Children Will Listen,” from Into the Woods. (Hodges lands another winner in Act II with the lovely, “Can You Find It in Your Heart.”) The tragic bridge accident had resulted in the reverend and the town council passing a law forbidding dancing. Therein hangs our central conflict.
As it happens, young Ren is a terrific dancer, and wants there to be a big dance at the high school. Mr. Rapsilver, with his gymnastic and acrobatic dance skills impressively on display in the number, “I Can’t Stand Still,” is perfectly cast to lead this high-energy cast in the numerous blockbuster numbers so skillfully choreographed by Ms. Schrier.
Simple set changes are barely noticed as they easily transport us from the well-designed church, to the school, to the soda shop, to the town bridge, and both the inside and outside of the Moore family home with just a simple rotation. Choral singing of the church choir was terrific, and decorated by some pleasing counterpoints from the ensemble. Ariel joins Chuck and his pals, Travis (John Paul Manluctao), and Lyle (Sid Wadley) for the sassy sensuality of, “The Girl Gets Around,” while Ariel’s girlfriends, Urleen (Parigrynne Zangara), Wendy Jo (Sadie Blair), and Rusty (full-voiced Meredith Fisk), deliver a nice song of warning to their friends with, “Somebody’s Eyes.” Ms. Fisk, by the way, hits one out of the park in Act II with a rousing, “Let’s Hear It for the Boys,” that explodes across the stage with great dancing from the cast, much like the colorful, beautifully costumed (designer, Angelie De Los Santos), and eye-popping choreography ahead in the show’s finale reprise of “Footloose.” In between, audiences can enjoy the gals’ sassy harmonies for the foot-stomping, “Holding out for a Hero,” and Rev. Moore’s poignant, “Heaven Help Me.” The first act ends with the ensemble’s dance athleticism in “I’m Free,” and the second act opens with more excitement as the kids gather in the nearby Barbeque Dance Palace for boot-scootin’, two-steppin’ fun as Cowboy Bob (Lucas Olivarez) & His Band inspire great western-style dancing from the cast during, “Still Rockin’.” The fun continues as Willard and his pals deliver a “Mama Says,” that features the guys in a high-kick line that could rival the Radio City Rockettes. Why not come and get your own kicks with a long-delayed return to the world of LIVE theatre? You’ll be glad you did.
FOOTLOOSE continues through March 28, 2021 at The Owen Theatre, 225 Metcalf St., Conroe, Texas, 77301, with performances Friday & Saturday @8pm, and matinees Saturday & Sunday @2pm. Prices range from $15 – $24, with discounts for children, youth, & seniors. For tickets and information call 936-539-4090, or visit the website at http://www.owentheatre.com
A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the columns of DAVID DOW BENTLEY III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.