FOOTLOOSE – THE MUSICAL at Cheltenham Everyman

Footloose Dress (Muso)-7

Generally, for musicals, the progression is from stage to film. There are very few musicals which were originally created for the big screen and fewer still have been adapted from film to the stage. Now, you will never hear me favour film over stage, but musicals take on a whole new, more spectacular life with the movie version – think West Side Story, South Pacific, Showboat, Les Mis – the list is almost endless. I’m not saying better, I’m saying bigger, more spectacular. So is the danger of adapting a film for the stage fraught with danger? Will it lack the scale? Will it compare favourably with the original? We were to find out soon enough with Footloose – The Musical.

Footloose first saw the light of day as a 1984 film starring a youthful Kevin Bacon as the high-spirited lad up-rooted from his home in Chicago and dumped in dreary Bomont, a small town in West Virginia where dancing has been banned by the town’s preacher following the death of four local teenagers who crashed their car while returning from a dance. One wonders if they had been on their way back from a restaurant whether eating would have been banned. But I digress.

So young Ren, played by Luke Baker, a fairly good substitute for Kevin Bacon, makes it his mission to ruffle a few feathers, to make the preacher see the error of his bigoted ways and get dancing reinstated on the social calendar. In the process there is a lot of loud singing and dancing from the exuberant young cast. This was a real ensemble piece with all the company playing several musical instruments with only the drummer, who spent the evening locked in a cage perched high on an eerie, having no lines. Mr Bacon has stated that in the film he had a stunt double, a dance double and two gymnastics doubles. Luke Baker did all his jumping, dancing and back-flips unaided and very athletically too.

Anybody going specifically to see Gareth Gates might have felt a little short-changed because this was not Mr Gates’ show and this was not, by any means, the performance  we might have expected. Oh no, not by a long chalk. This was a broad comedy Gareth Gates and, what is more, a goofy comedy Gareth Gates – and there was me thinking his talents lay in singing. After a lot of goofiness he only had one song in the show which, although nicely done, must have disappointed his fans. But no doubt all was forgiven when he had his shirt ripped from his muscular, shiny torso revealing, if not the full monty, then at least a good deal of it. For many ladies in the audience this seemed to be the high spot of the evening, that and a lot of crotch clutching.

The other name above the title, Maureen Nolan as Mrs Preacher, didn’t fare much better as far as songs were concerned – although she did mange to keep her shirt on. She was by far the most professional and composed performer on stage and was sadly under-used. Visually the show worked a treat with the ever-changing, multi-function, complex set by Sara Perks always providing a colourful setting for the action. With that in mind, it was a bit surprising that the opening number took place in front of a front cloth making it much less oomphy than perhaps it could or should have been.

It would be a mistake to take this too seriously and be too critical. It was loud and brash and the audience loved it so who am I to be all snobbish about it? However, there were a couple of things that struck me as a bit odd – apart from the Gareth Gates’ funny bits, that is. It seemed a bit strange to me that a Southern preacher man who made dancing and having a good time illegal in his parish was quite happy to have his daughter, and all her friends, flounce around wearing skimpy denim shorts and  rather tarty, off-the-shoulder frilly white blouses. It also struck me as peculiar that for a show that has been around for so long, not one hit song has emanated from it. But hey, what do I know? As I said, the audience loved it and that surely is the definition of a good show – isn’t it?    ★★★☆☆   Michael Hasted    12th September 2016