The New Theatre was packed to the rafters this week as Footloose swept into town to entertain us with an all-singing, all-dancing, and all-playing cast, and inject some musical fun into our lives with this classic coming-of-age story.
We all know the plot, as immortalised in 1984’s cult film starring the iconic Kevin Bacon, when Ethel and Ren McCormack arrive in small town Beaumont to start life again.
But Beaumont has its own secrets and it soon becomes clear that all is not well, its young people suffocating thanks to preacher Rev Shaw Moore who has imposed bans on music and dancing. Ren has a fight on his hand in every way to try to make them see reason by staging a school dance.
The big names drafted in to put bums on seats are Darren Day who was cheered onto stage when he appeared as Rev Shaw Moore, followed by gasps at his aged appearance (good hair and make up, it is acting after all!), and his gravitas on stage was brilliant – his calm, evangelical, dominating presence was all encompassing.
The irony of an ageing white man keeping his community beholden with his draconian laws didn’t pass us by, considering what’s going on in America at the moment, which only made the production seem more prescient.
Jake Quickenden was also brilliant as Willard, Ren’s slow-witted but utterly adorable side kick who protects him from the meaner kids at school and tries to keep him out of trouble.
But of course Ren (played by Joshua Hawkins) hadn’t reckoned on falling for the preacher’s daughter Ariel (played by the Lucy Munden whose vocals were incredible) and all hell breaks loose.
The small knit cast, who play musical instruments and role swap multiple characters, keep the energy alive through the multiple athletic and colourful numbers. There are some amazing voices and musicians, Oonagh Cox (Rusty) standing out in particular and rather stealing the show.
There are some unexpected music choices though, from Bonnie Tyler’s I Need A Hero to Mama Says, but the classic Footloose tunes are in there as well, morphing into big old musical numbers.
This adaption of Footloose is unashamedly schmaltzy and corny, the classic lines from the film sitting uneasily amongst the colourful whirligig of costumes, songs and dancing, but the audience loved it, taking it for what it was and getting up on their feet for the last few numbers to dance and sing along with an exuberant standing ovation.
Question is, is it any good? The audience thought so. Who am I to disagree? Just make sure you have a sweet tooth.
Footloose is at New Theatre Oxford until Sat 2 July. Tickets at https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/footloose/new-theatre-oxford/