Monday, July 8, 2013

Theater Review: Footloose -- Ivoryton Playhouse

Zoe Kassay and Cody Ryan. Photo: Anne Hudson
 Strong Vocals Let Loose in Musical About Letting Go
By Lauren Yarger
A predictable plot and disjointed musical elements might have brought Footloose down, but deeper messages, good character development and -- at least in the production running over at Ivoryton Playhouse --   a strong vocal ensemble, turn the show around into an enjoyable romp through rebellious youth and overprotective parents.

The show is adapted for the stage by Dean Pitchford, with music by Tom Snow, based on Pitchford’s screenplay for the popular movie starring Kevin Bacon and John Lithgow. Additional music is provided by Eric Carmen, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins and Jim Steinman with lyrics by Pitchford. With so many cooks stirring the musical pot, there is a lot of confusion about what style of music we’re listening to here: from “Almost Paradise” to “Holding Out for a Hero" to Kenny Loggins’ pop tune “Footloose” and everything in between.

Loosely wrapped around the songs is a plot about teens trying to find themselves and the adults trying to protect them through that process, but deeper themes, emotions and strong characters emerge to season the brew.

Cody Ryan plays Ren McCormack, forced to move from exciting Chicago to boring small-town Bomont where his aunt and uncle offer them a place to live when his Ren’s father abandons him and his mother, Ethel (Elise Arsenault). Trying to fit in, Ren repeatedly gets into trouble and irritates the man who controls most of what happens in town: the Rev. Shaw Moore (a splendidly voiced Edward Juvier).

Ren has just too much free spirit for this this place, which officially banned dancing within the town limits five and a half years ago when some teens were killed when their car plunged off a bridge on their way home from a dance.

Also finding herself with a little too much free spirit is Moore’s daughter, Ariel (Zoe Kassay, also lending a strong singing voice to the production), who hides her relationship with bad-boy Chuck Cranston (Michael Wright) and her red cowboy boots (Kari Crowther, costume design) from her father. The boys in town know she’s the “devil in disguise,” but her mom, Vi (Traci Bair) knows that her daughter is just trying to get the reverend’s attention. She feels abandoned since her brother died in that tragic accident on the bridge.

Ren tries to help Ariel, and even quotes bible verses to the town council in his quest to allow the high school senior class to hold a dance, but Moore is too fixated on the tragic consequences he feels dance will have on the teenagers. There are some subplots thrown in there too, the most notable of which is Ren’s friendship with cowboy Willard Hewitt (a very good Patrich H. Dunn), who confesses that he doesn’t even know how to dance.

It’s a talented ensemble, but a very large cast and Director/Choreographer Richard Amelius has difficulty moving them all around the small stage. When the kids do get chances to dance, the movement seems curbed rather than a free-spirited celebration. The pace seemed slow on opening night, but I suspect it will gel when the cast gets some performances under its belt.

Some of the creative choices seem to bog the production down as well. Labor-intensive set changes (Cully Long, design) and movement of landmarks depicted in silhouette behind a backdrop scrim, disrupt the flow. Some of the women’s costumes are particularly unflattering.

Those criticisms aside, the show, ably music directed by Michael Morris, is very entertaining and moving. Vocals are especially good in this mostly non-Equity ensemble. 

Footloose plays through July 28 at Ivoryton Playhouse,  103 Main St., Ivoryton Performances Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm; Evening performances Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Tickets $40 for adults, $35 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children: (860) 767-7318;

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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