A musical set in the 1980s must not take itself too seriously. In 2002, we don’t laugh with the ’80s; we laugh at them.
The very enjoyable SCERA production of “Footloose: The Musical,” directed by Andrew Hunsaker, has the right attitude. Legwarmers, breakdancing and oh! those terrible hairstyles are found in abundance, and we smirk as we recognize them. Besides, how can you take a musical seriously that uses the ultra-cheesy ’80s ballad “Almost Paradise” as its love theme?
With all due respect to the energetic and mostly talented cast, the star of the show is the choreographer, Melissa Aaron. Most of the songs — several from the 1984 film and more added for the stage version — are forgettable. But when accompanied by witty, athletic dancing, one can’t help but be caught up in the enthusiasm of it. Numbers like “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” and the final shouting of the title song are so giddily exuberant that only the most uncool of observers will fail to be entertained.
Chad Mortensen plays Ren McCormick, a blithely sarcastic high school student who is uprooted from his Chicago home after his parents’ divorce and moved to the tiny hick town of Beaumont. To his horror, he learns there is no dancing permitted in the town, due to the city council being overly concerned about “raves,” which weren’t occurring in the city anyway.
No, sorry, I was thinking of Provo. In Beaumont, the inciting incident was when several teens died on their way home from a dance — ergo, dancing is bad, according to Rev. Shaw Moore (Scott Aaron), who rules Beaumont with an iron, Bible-clutching fist. (What if those teens had been on their way home from church, eh, Rev. Moore?)
So it’s Ren vs. the Rev — or open-mindedness vs. narrow-mindedness, if we’re going to see as much depth in the show as its authors would like us to.
There are some surprising standouts in the cast. Steve Aaron (this a three-Aaron show) impresses as Ren’s new cowboy friend Willard; as the boy in “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” he’s an easy crowd favorite. As Rusty, the girl who pines for Willard, Jennifer Dandy is, well, dandy, with a voice and an attitude that make her a star.
I also am fond of Laurel Asay as Ariel, the Reverend’s rebellious daughter who falls in love with Ren. Asay and Mortensen are a good pair, and Asay gives Ariel more intelligence than musical heroines often get.
Sometimes there are distractions. In “I’m Free,” for example, should we be watching Ren sing at center stage, or should our attention be focused on Willard making a jackass of himself off to the side? There is focus-pulling in a few of the other full-cast numbers, too.
Is it a winking acknowledgement of Beaumont’s similarity to Provo that seemingly every married woman in Beaumont is pregnant? Maybe not, but it makes me smile, as does most of the show.
Should you go? If you are young or can remember what being young is like, the show will surely entertain you.
I saw this show on Broadway and enjoyed myself, all the while thinking, "This show is kinda dumb." Subsequently, I listened to the soundtrack CD and realized just how lame some of the songs are. It was in seeing it again at the SCERA that I realized how integral the dancing is to the show: Without it, we're forced to listen too much to the lyrics.