Smile Politely

A better Footloose

About the musical itself

If you have seen a 1984 film Footloose, starring Kevin Bacon, then you are probably familiar with all the clichés that surround this motion-picture: teenage rebellion, repression, democratic constipation and fluffy dialogue.

It’s all fun and 80’s… that’s pretty much it actually. That is, plenty of Spandex and those humongous shoulder pads that make you look like someone out of a Stanley Kubrick film.

(Ed. Note: Jeez. Louise.)

After the film made somewhat of a success, someone had a brilliant idea to expand and make the movie into a full-blown musical hence giving a birth to yet another child on already overpopulated planet of crappy productions.

Footloose is a story about a city kid who after his father abandonment (and his emerging puberty) is forced to move with his mother to a small town where dancing and thus having fun has been banned due to an outdated city ordinance. He can’t believe that no one tries to stand up and fight for their “freedom” to dance and have fun. In the first ten minutes the play becomes your typical story of small time politics closed to needed change. Talk about identity formation.

Bottom line: Imagine decades of that repressed dancing energy, incubating in the dark tunnels of subconscious, waiting to be set free, manifesting itself into two hours of boring, corny dialogues that make “You had me at hello” sound like a Shakespeare’s soliloquy .

C-U production

There are certain feats in life that can be regarded as impressive. Like Atlas carrying the world on his shoulders for example. It is one heavy piece of rock that we are talking about. It is full of wars, lunatics and Snuggle blankets.

 Atlas, despite his desire to rest, sit down and have a beer like a normal Titan he is has to carry that rock every minute of his life. Not a fun task. But a task nevertheless. It is a feat that requires a lot of strength and even a curse.

I don’t know about the curse but the strength was definitely present when I saw the C-U theater production of Footloose. They did not carry any rocks on their shoulders, but they did achieve the impossible task of making this musical enjoyable.

WCIA and the C-U Theater Company, along with Michelle Bahr — the director of the play — adopted the play to suit the Champaign-Chicago setting. Now the play’s rebel (Ren McKormack) is a former inhabitant of the windy city and he is going to Bomont to wreak havoc and try to convince the city council to change the ridiculous law that prohibits everyone from doing their disco thing.

The minor changes in the storyline have actually helped give the play to expand the depth that it screamed for. Instead of an outdated town ordinance being the reason for the dancing ban, a tragic loss of four young adults — including the son of the town’s minister — is the new plays motive for preventing anyone of any age from dancing.

The sense of tragedy has given the dancing and generally the entire performance a different purpose. It has introduced a new theme that was absent before — dancing as a coping mechanism.

That is what the original play has lacked and Michelle Bahr has changed it. The original reason for the dancing ban seemed very much arbitrary and it heeded the motion of the story. Very little sense of purpose or direction could be drawn from it and the sense of realism that it was striving for was absent crippling the plays overall status. But now dancing has not only become enjoyable, it has proved that it is not just for fun. There is something else behind it. 

Throughout the play we witness the pain that Rev.  Shaw experiences after he loses his son in a tragic car accident. He is stricken with grief and he does what any conservative minister would do. Illegalize things as a way of dealing with issues. At the same time our rebel McCormak experiences a different type of loss — his father’s abandonment. In the end of the play Ren reverses the roles with Rev. Shawn and teaches him that banning dancing was a wrong approach to a road of recovery. It appears that dancing is good for the soul.

The choreography in the show delivered a perfect amount of vigor to provide substantial amount of support to the revised storyline. It did not overwhelm nor did it lighten the load of the dialogue. The dances were fluid and they followed the mood.

A big plus has to go to the music director who has kept the show moving along at times of stiffness. He conducted it well and was a very strong backbone for the entire affair. Combining electric instruments with some interesting sound effects gave this production a tinge of modernity. At times it felt as though the 80’s were over and we were back in our shit-ridden days.

The ending was a little longer than usual. It seemed as though the show has ended 10 minutes ago, when in reality it was still going. Just when you thought that the light will go on the actors would burst into another 10 min of song and dance. At one point some people have left because they thought the show was over. But it wasn’t. If it was just a little bit shorter, it would have had a better dramatic effect. Instead it sort of dragged on for little bit longer than it should have.

Overall the production was a success. The cast was very talented. John Deal who played Willard Hewitt has brought much humor to the show and was a great comic relief character. The rest of the cast including the leads nailed their lines and as I have said earlier have just simply improved the mere cheesiness of the original piece.  

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Friday & Saturday at 7:30 and Saturday & Sunday at 2:30 | Parkland College Theater

Music by Tom Snow

Lyrics by Dean Pitchford

Book by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie

Directed by Michelle Bahr

Ordering Tickets: To order tickets, call the the Champaign Urbana Theatre Company Ticket Hot Line at 217-344-3884 or order on line.



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