It’s possible when Footloose was first created, it meant to serve as a metaphor about art prevailing in times of tyrannical control. It could be a symbolic battle cry for rebels to fight their oppressors and rally against Big Brother; the initial movie did come out in 1984, coincidentally or not. Or maybe, it could just be fun to romp to “lose your blues.” You know, to just cut footloose.
Either way, the show takes the floor this summer at BDT Stage, through Sept. 3.
The musical follows the new kid in the small town of Bomont, Ren McCormick, who immediately gets labeled the bad boy for no particular reason other than he’s new, which means different, which means bad. He soon learns that dancing has been outlawed, the legal aftermath of a tragic car accident that killed four drunk teenagers coming home from a dance. Ren decides to fight against the ban, subsequently pitting himself against its instigator Reverend Shaw Moore.
It’s the classic story of youth versus adults — young people insisting they know best and adults reassuring them they do not. But in Footloose you root for the kids, who just wanna dance, man, and against Reverend Moore, who is reminiscent of political pinhead Donald Trump — misunderstanding the root of the problem and instead putting an unhelpful, harmfully misguided Band-Aid on the situation (read: building a wall). But in the end, Footloose is a celebration of the twinkly-eyed lens of adolescence, a perspective often needed in adulthood.
In terms of movies turned musicals, Footloose falls on the better end of the spectrum. It leans heavily on its source material, for the better, but most importantly it forges its own path with a bevy of original songs mixed in with the classics, including “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” and the title song.
Moreover, the original music adds depth to the story by giving the audience a 360-degree look at all the characters in the story. “Learning to be Silent” is a lamenting duet between Ren’s mother and the Reverend’s wife, who feel they have lost their voice. Even the Reverend’s solo number “Heaven Help Me” provides a sympathetic look at a grieving father and conflicted community leader.
“Heaven help me shoulder my load. Every day’s a struggle, still,” he sings. “Someone’s got to take the high road. If I don’t, who will?”
While it’s not necessary for a movie-turned-musical to religiously adhere to the source material, Footloose the Musical leaves the audience missing some key scenes. Two notable movie moments missing from the stage are Ren’s infamous warehouse dance sequence and the intense-but-not-really-intense tractor chicken game — both scenes which would have allowed for some theatrical staging creativity.
As it’s based on an ’80s movie, Footloose the Musical isn’t necessarily a breath of a fresh air to theater. It has typical after-school-special moments and cheesy dialogue, but it’s best when it’s playful. The strengths of the show are the musical numbers and the energy of the BDT Stage cast.
Jean-Luc Cavner led the production as Ren and provided the boyish charm and slick moves of the iconic character, made famous by the omnipresent Kevin Bacon. Cavner was equally matched by the show’s heroine, Seles VanHuss, who plays Ariel Moore, Ren’s love interest and the Reverend’s daughter. VanHuss delivered a lovely performance that infused the character with charisma and sass.
But the best performance of the night goes to Satya Jnani Chavez, who plays Ariel’s best pal Rusty. Chavez was a delight every time she was on stage — hilarious to watch, with a show-stopping voice to match.
“Holding Out for a Hero” was a high point for the show. Chavez and VanHuss were joined by Bussy Gower (who plays Urleen) and Melissa Morris (Wendy Jo). The ladies delivered a powerhouse performance of the anthem about not settling for less than they deserve.
Along with the standout performances, the production boasted a lively ensemble that captured the spunky Footloose vibe during multiple big dance numbers.
Overall, Footloose the Musical is a nostalgic callback to the classic ’80s film, and it serves as a better option than just popping in the DVD for the hundredth time. While it’s a not a theatrical game changer or a classic musical staple, it does serve as a fun night at the theater.
On the Bill: Footloose. BDT Stage, 5501 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, 303-449-6000. Through Sept. 3.