‘Footloose’ is energetic and exciting
“From the oldest of times, people danced for a number of reasons,” claimed Ren McCormack in “Footloose.” Hillel Theater Group’s production of “Footloose” demonstrated a few of these reasons over the weekend in the Shapiro Campus Center Theater. Directed by Rachel Josselsohn ’17, the musical followed the free-spirited Ren (played by Justin Chimoff ’20) as he moved into a religious town which had outlawed dancing. Ren eventually proved to the town that dancing is a means of celebration, praise and harmless fun; naturally, the show ended with a triumphant dance number.
Choreographer Lisa Petrie ’17 and Dance Captains Anna Stern ’18 and Hannah McCowan ’19 incorporated several kinds of dance into the show. Western dances, like those included in “Let’s Hear It for The Boy,” found the cast line-dancing, stomping their feet and brushing up their heels. Other numbers, like the opening and closing numbers, “Footloose” and “Footloose (reprise),” found the whole cast dancing as a unit, combining hip-hop with gesture-based movement in order to convey meaning through their dancing. Most dance numbers used both levels of the stage, featuring action onstage as well directly overhead on the impressive wooden bridge that served as the show’s main set.
While the chorus was strong and in sync, several of its main cast members stood out.
Bryan McNamara ’19 shone as the strong but conflicted Reverend Shaw Moore. He was eloquent and commanding, engaging the crowd the way a real pastor would, especially in the sermon that ended the play. Another standout was his on-stage wife Vi Moore, played by Halley Geringer ‘19. Geringer’s restraint and clarity made it easy for the audience to empathize with her character. Her decision to speak in two different ways — demurely at times, boldly at others — exemplified her internal conflict between supporting her husband and asserting her own values.
Female lead Ariel Moore, played by Adina Jacobson ’20, was assertive, proud and pulled focus each time she sang. In “I Need a Hero,” even as the chorus sang in sync and on key, and as dancers and a gymnast tumbled around her, Moore’s vibrant and expressive voice remained the core of the song.
GETTIN’ THE GIRL: Willard Hewitt (Max Ozer-Staton ’20) dances, despite being awkward, to win Rocky’s (Emily Arkin ’20) affection.
With “I Need a Hero,” the musical also reminded me of its age. “I Need a Hero” was a popular song in 1984, the year “Footloose” premiered. This reminder gave context to some of the musical’s out-of-place jokes that made me bristle first and laugh second. Jokes about Ren’s male friends being embarrassed to attend a poetry reading, for instance, felt out of date. “The Girl Gets Around,” a song meant to shame Moore for not playing the role of the chaste preacher’s daughter, felt similarly dated.
However, the show countered this with clever direction and new lines that I cannot imagine were in the original script. The decision to have Moore sing along and own her actions with pride in “The Girl Gets Around” helped bring this song into the modern era.
Later, one cast member described the town council members’ shocked reactions to Ren’s speech with the phrase “they were literally shitting themselves,” which feels like a more modern expression. Another fun adaptation was Willard Hewitt’s (Max Ozer-Staton’s ’20) address being 415 South Street.
Overall, “Footloose” was a fun and engaging show. The songs and dances fit together well, and its strong main cast helped maintain the upbeat mood. The show would have been justified in taking a heavier turn, given that its subject matter included religious freedom and car accidents. Instead, the cast’s energy and magnetism kept “Footloose” light and entertaining.