One Word: FANTASTIC
FOOTLOOSE tells the story of a teenage boy Ren McCormack (Luke Baker) from Chicago who is forced to move away from the city to the small town of Bomont, West Virginia due to his parents’ break-up and his father walking out. Going from the popular kid in school he becomes the ‘dangerous outsider’ in a close-knit community where everybody knows everybody and nobody moves away. This community has, in the recent past, suffered a dreadful loss of life of 4 young Bomontians following a school dance, which has led to the town council making dancing illegal within the town’s borders, something that Ren just cannot accept.
Youthful exuberance is the foundation for the current tour of this often exercised show on the UK touring circuit as mainly unknown young actors get the opportunity to build their CVs and show the results of their recent drama school training whilst working with some already established artistes. The energy is high, the dancing is slick, the vocals are certainly well rehearsed and it was a delight to see so many young actor-musicians on the stage who all play multiple instruments, from double basses to clarinets through to electric guitars. You get the great sense of collaboration within the company because of this, as all instruments are visible on stage and all cast members (including leads) take their turn to play a range of them to support their fellow actors in a scene. This collaborative approach, something that is becoming much more openly prominent in the Theatre, reflects the sense of community in the town of Bomont and is a fantastic artistic choice by Director Racky Plews. Plews is certainly a ‘rising star’ Director and this production of FOOTLOOSE comes hot off the heels of her most recent successful West End and UK touring show American Idiot, which is due to return to the Arts Theatre, West End later this year due to popular demand.
Performance wise, Luke Baker’s portrayal of Ren, which was made famous in the 1984 film by Kevin Bacon, is polished, well established and secure and he is clearly a very talented young actor who certainly has a bright future ahead of him. He brought a good mix of gravitas and light-heartedness to the character and did exceptionally well to make sense of an often ‘clunky’ script to create believable dialogue. Vocally sound with a strong pop/rock quality he was also evidently a great dancer, mastering some exciting choreography from Matthew Cole, and an accomplished guitarist which makes him a great up and coming Quadruple Threat leading man for the West End musical scene.
Another up and coming young actor who is set for a long career in the profession is the fantastic Hannah Price who plays the innocent preacher’s daughter turned sexy chick Ariel Moore, who Ren falls head over heels for (almost literally in one scene on roller skates!). Price has a wonderful vocal tone which seems effortless when she sings, even in the show’s most famous song ‘Holding Out for a Hero’, which is technically a difficult sing. Still, Price simply powers through with seeming ease; an enviable quality for most performers. Much like Baker, Price is also a very strong Quadruple Threat performer and shows her skill for strong emotional and believable acting, the ability to hold her own in the demanding choreography and is often seen playing a number of instruments when not in a scene. Having only recently graduated from Guildford School of Acting, Hannah Price is certainly one to watch with an exciting career ahead.
However, the limelight is most certainly (and deservedly) stolen, kidnapped and kept hostage forever by Lee Brennan, who most people will know from his previous career as a pop star in 90s boy band 911. Brennan is an absolutely fantastic performer and completely captures the audience from his first appearance and never lets them go. His characterisation of the hillbilly-esque Willard is second to none and at no point does he drop this character or concentration. The depth of study Brennan has clearly done, in his musical theatre debut as well, is highly commendable and he can certainly be very proud of the work he has produced. Perfect comic timing, a large emotional spectrum and the natural ability to perform for an audience make him one of the best part of the whole production and I certainly hope he now continues to wow audiences for many musicals to come.
Overall, this production really is a breath of fresh air for an often overdone musical. Racky Plews and the creative team should be delighted with what they have achieved and the whole cast should be proud of their work. A standing ovation from the whole house at the end highlights just how enjoyable the show is and how highly the audience appreciates the talent and hard work that has gone into the production. With potential rumours of a West End transfer being whispered around the industry (we all know what a small world it is!) I would love to see how it performs on a great West End stage and hope the same cast get the opportunity to put it there.
Date of performance: 06/05/16 – New Wimbledon Theatre
On Tour until 15th October