When you go to see Footloose the Musical, you expect elaborate dance numbers, great songs, bad clothes and even worse hair, plus more camp acting than a Scout trip. And it certainly didn't disappoint.
Footloose is based on the apparently true story of a small American town which banned dancing, citing religious reasons. While it sounds quite silly (because it is), it works even better as a musical than as a film, as it allows the spectacle to really play out and be felt by the live audience. You know the songs, and they're fantastic. It's shocking just how many you know. Some of the complicated dance routines leave you wondering how they were even able to do such a thing, a danger and excitement lost on a pre-taped and edited film.
The cast last night has to be one of the most talented ensembles ever to hit Oxford, not just for their dancing, but also the singing, with seemingly everyone having a solo number. Every instrument on stage are not simply props but are played live by the actors. This is very impressive, often leaving an actor who just finished a huge number running over to the piano just out of the action for the next number. There's a non-stop energy to the show and the audience was happy to go along for the ride.
Everyone was curious how Lee Brennan would fare in his debut as Willard. After selling 10 million albums as a boy band pop star with 911 and later a Big Reunion reality star, he proved an absolute natural for the stage. He brought a huge amount of humour to the role, especially with his physicality. Nearly every time he was on stage he stole the scene. His excellent performance brought a refocused attention to the struggles of Willard and his love interest Rusty (played by the delightful Joanna Sawyer).
In the lead role of Ren, popularized by Kevin Bacon, Luke Baker brought a lightness and sweetness to the role missing from the 1984 movie. Combined with Brennan, he gave the musical a more contemporary pop feel while still playing all the hits from the original. Maureen Nolan of the Nolan Sisters fame doubles up as Vi and Principle Clark, effortlessly blending into each role, and as Vi, providing a bit a reality to the crazy world around her.
The musical sticks pretty closely to the movie but the live aspect still allows the show to be surprising. The show is a feel-good trip back to the 80s and by the end of the show the crowd was on their feet applauding - and dancing.