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HTG's 'Footloose' is pure entertainment

By Mara Sassoon
On March 26, 2012

"Bomont! Where the hell is Bomont?" When snarky teen Ren McCormack announces he's moving from Chicago to the tiny, middle-of-nowhere town of Bomont, his friends all cry the above comment in unison. But the play's setting is certainly not the only question that was posed in Hillel Theater Group's vibrant and surprisingly thought-provoking performance of the stage adaptation of Footloose last weekend.

Many people associate Footloose with awesome '80s clothing, rocking music and epic dance numbers. Oh, and Kevin Bacon. The original 1984 movie, which starred Bacon as Ren, was adapted for the stage in 1998. Then, in Oct. 2011, a remake of the film hit cinemas. Dean Pitchford, who wrote the screenplay for the 1984 movie and assisted in penning the remake, also co-wrote the stage adaptation with Walter Bobbie. Pitchford's lyrics, along with music by Tom Snow, Eric Carmen, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins and Jim Steinman are a combination that makes for a foot-tapping good time.

HTG's production, the open-cast (meaning that anyone who auditioned made it in) musical for this year, naturally followed the resurgence of Footloose mania. The show, which was directed by Jade Sank '12 and Aliza Sebert '12 and produced by Lizzy Benway '14, opened last Thursday to a full house in the Carl J. Shapiro Theater.

The first act begins with Ren's (Brett Torres '12) relocation to Bomont with his mother Ethel (Bethany Adam '15) to live with his strict uncle (Ben Rifkin '12) and milquetoast aunt (Viktoria Lange '13). Later, it is revealed that Ren's father has walked out on his family, which hints at an explanation for the pain that lies beneath Ren's tough exterior.

In Bomont, Ren and Ethel go to church where they encounter the über-traditional Reverend Shaw Moore (Harry Webb '12) and the townsfolk who heed everything the Reverend says without argument. Rev. Shaw's major pull in Bomont has allowed him to implement a law banning dancing, after a group of teenagers died a few years before in a tragic car accident. However, there is no immediate explanation as to why this would have prompted him to come up with this seemingly absurd rule.

Also sitting in the pews is Rev. Shaw's teenage daughter Ariel (Katrina Michalewski '15), who both catches Ren's eye and stood out to the audience in this production with her bright red cowboy boots. It soon becomes clear that these cowboy boots are a symbol of Ariel's passionate rebellion against her father's backwards mentality and ridiculous laws.

Two scenes later, the defiant Ren shows up at school and starts dancing in the hallway, and his goofy classmate Willard (Nick Petrocchi '12), a self-proclaimed mama's boy, warns him about the ban placed on dancing. Their fellow classmates are just as wary of Ren's dancing, including Ariel's friends Rusty (Nicole Wittels '15), Urleen (Eliza Dumais '14) and Wendy Jo (Rachel Benjamin '14), who sing the number "Somebody's Eyes" which warns Ren that everyone in town is under constant scrutiny. Here, they also reveal to Ren that the teenagers who were killed in the crash were returning home from a dance-and even later, Ariel reveals that one of the victims was her brother, Rev. Shaw's son.

The story of Footloose becomes particularly poignant when Ariel and her much more reasonable mother Vi (Sarah Brodsky '14) sing "Learning to be Silent" with Ren's mother after the Reverend refuses to listen to his daughter's complaints about his irrational ways. This provokes the members of the audience to ask themselves what it would mean to not be able to express themselves, whether through speech or even dance.

The cast's joy for performing was palpable. They were clearly having a great time on stage, and that is really what matters in a show for which all who auditioned were cast. Torres' singing was delightful-calm, natural and fitting for the character of Ren, since he was not forcing outrageous powerhouse vocals. Michalewski, too, sang beautifully, especially in Ren and Ariel's duet, "Almost Paradise."

Petrocchi was hilarious in his portrayal of the awkward Willard. Audience members couldn't help but cheer for his character as he fumbled through talking to Rusty, his crush, and when he finally broke out his outrageous dance moves. Also, in a show so focused on dancing, choreographers Beth Green '12, Danielle Zipkin '12 and Tara Loeber '14 did a fine job crafting the fun and energetic dance routines that the show needed.

HTG's production of Footloose definitely met my expectations for a good time­-the cast and crew delivered a really entertaining evening. In this show about restoring people's freedom of expression, those up on stage appropriately conveyed how important it is to be able to do what you love in life.

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