There’s been a rise of the use of actor/musicians over the last few years and it’s a trend I’m not a fan of. Despite the fact that I’m in awe of anyone with the ability to can sing, dance, act and play at least one musical instrument to a reasonable standard, when all muddled together on stage, sadly the quality of all of the elements tends to suffer.
That is unfortunately the case in Racky Plews production of Footloose, the musical comedy based on the 1984 film, which after a nationwide tour has taken up residence at the Peacock Theatre for a limited run.
Footloose follows the story of a teenage boy, who after his father abandons the family is forced to move to a small town in the American bible belt, where dancing has been banned.
Now, let’s not assume the material is of excellent quality and staging it with the actors playing the entire musical score has ruined it. No, Plews and her company are working with a bit of a stinker of a show in any case – with a pretty preposterous story, vacuous characters and really flimsy script – so injecting something different, on paper is a good idea.
But what you get is a bit of a muddle on stage, where dance routines are hampered by the performers continually having to cope with being attached to an electric guitar, while maneuvering around the relatively meager performance space.
It’s also pretty implausible that in a town that has banned dancing, you’d find council members happy to pick up a base guitar or tenor saxophone and don’t even get me started on the out dated and sometimes downright offensive themes hidden within the pretense of a morality tale.
That said, the cast do their best with the material and – thanks to some exuberant performances from the female ensemble – in the most part, particularly in act two, when the well-known tunes come one after another.
There are some decent performances from Joshua Dowen as Ren and Hannah Price as Ariel, while star cast member Gareth Gates shows some comedic prowess as the dungarees clad Willard.
But the continuous impediment of the musical instruments also makes some of the direction very clunky (for example, after Ariel storms off in a temper she then sits down at the piano to accompany her tormentor).
If you’re a fan of the film and the music you will probably be able to look past the problems with the production and just enjoy the ambience, but if you’re a musical theatre fan, this show might not be for you.