Forgive me Reverend, for I have danced.
Having never seen the 1984 classic film Footloose, starring bad boy Kevin Bacon, I was surprised to find my shoulders bopping and knees pumping during the Kinsmen Club of Kingston’s musical rendition at the Grand Theatre.
Undeniably catchy 80s tunes, like Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero” and Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose,” leave you unreasonably giddy after the show. Quirky jazz, tap and break dancing interludes by a solid supporting cast had me jealous of their moves.
The plot is a no-brainer — girl falls for misunderstood boy and father doesn’t approve. Reverend Moore, the head of the Bomont Council, has laid down the law against dancing. Ren McCormack, a smart-mouthed city boy from Chicago, shakes up the stifled community, leading the fight to bring back rock and roll.
Footloose features a candid cast of volunteers underscored by a professional seven-person orchestra. The Kinsmen Club is a non-profit organization that has donated over $110,000 in the last seven years to local charities including the Kingston chapter for Cystic Fibrosis. Kinsmen spent $10,000 on rights to the script and rallied a sophisticated set design.
John MacPherson, as lead heartthrob Ren, channels a casual attitude with well-rounded vocals. He’s much more clean-cut than I imagine the notoriously sleek Bacon would be, but MacPherson’s harmless swagger and boy-band charm make for a vulnerable and endearing performance.
Unfortunately, dancing isn’t his strong suit, but he manages to pull at some heartstrings with his singing and easy stage presence.
Whatever rugged appeal Bacon has — I was never a fan — seems to be missing from the play. Lovable MacPherson lacked a roughness that would have given him more clout as Ren. When the kids finally defy authority and dance, it’s a wholesome honky-tonk scene with a chick-flick love twist. Line dancing doesn’t exactly scream freedom, but the excitement is still contagious.
The boys’ scene in the second act is a highlight, showcasing their comedic-chemistry and boyhood banter. Chris Varley as Lyle comes out in old-lady drag — playfully impersonating Willard’s large-bosomed mother — leaving the audience with cramps from laughing.
The supporting cast members were instrumental, adding numerous memorable moments and a consistently strong chorus throughout the show.
Actress Emily Fennel channels a cool and confident Ariel Moore, the Reverend’s rebel daughter. But the love connection between her and MacPherson takes a backseat to the music.
Unburden yourself of Hollywood expectations and just have fun. High off of Footloose’s high-energy vibes and fun-loving cast, I was humming and hopping home. I can’t imagine how Footloose wasn’t always a musical.
By the time I was 13 I had seen Footloose over 20 times and embarrassingly performed the final dance sequence at family functions. To say I was excited to see the Kinsmen Club of Kingston’s musical version of the 1984 film is an understatement. But the most iconic moments of Footloose are lost in the stage format.
The film is scandalous with its gyrating hips and incredibly loose main character, Ariel — but the 1998 stage version of Footloose tames all these dirty moments. The characters don’t even kiss, settling for innocent hugs instead.
Due to the constraints of the stage, many scenes from the film that defined characters are missing. In the film, Ariel shows her anger at her father by acting out — throwing herself in front of an on-coming train and standing between two moving cars. These scenes don’t occur in the musical. Emily Fennel does her best with the material given, rocking Ariel’s red boots. But she can’t truly portray Ariel without these moments.
Most disappointing is Ren’s rebellious warehouse dance scene, which the play changes to a group dance sequence in the school. The scene shows off John MacPherson’s stunning vocals and attempts to hide his lacking dance abilities. How can you have a Ren who can’t dance? How can you have a Ren not wearing a white wife beater?
MacPherson makes you fall in love with his good looks. But he’s too adorable to be a tough guy. The true bad boy is Chuck Cranston played by Alex Pearce. The way he wiggled his eyebrows in “The Girl Gets Around” was beyond suggestive and had me jumping to the wrong side of the tracks.
The film is all about the freedom that comes from dancing, which the characters finally experience when they travel to a nearby club. The club scene in the musical Footloose doesn’t fully define this freedom — it’s reminiscent of an awkward elementary school dance with the actors two-stepping, not getting down and dirty.
Though the musical deviates from the original script, one excellent addition was giving Vi, Ariel’s mother, a more prominent role. Beth Sirrett is mesmerizing as the constrained wife of the reverend. Her performance of “Learning To Be Silent” makes you forget all the other discrepancies — at least until she finishes the song.
It’s not that the Kinsmen Club of Kingston’s Footloose is bad, in fact it’s the opposite; it’s highly entertaining with great choreography and amazing talent. But it’s not the Footloose I fell in love with, it’s a watered-down version.
Footloose plays at the Grand Theatre until Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m. with matinees on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $40 for adults and $35 for students and seniors.
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