Review: "Footloose" Delivers Dynamic Dancing, Harmonious Hits and a Visually Stunning Story

Musicals at Richter (MAR) treats us a to a visually stunning production of “Footloose” that will have you dancing in and OUT of your seat! Matthew Farina’s impressive direction, immersed the audience into a world dealing with the struggles of teenage angst and overprotective parental control. Farina’s thrilling choreography took advantage of the youthful talent and energy of a very hardworking cast, as well as some skillfully designed moves for the parental units.

"Footloose" is a 1998 musical based on the 1984 film of the same name. The music is by Tom Snow (among others), the lyrics by Dean Pitchford (with additional lyrics by Kenny Loggins), and the book by Pitchford and Walter Bobbie. The story follows the journey of transplanted Chicago teen Ren McCormack as he tries to adapt to life in a small Midwestern town that has a ban on dancing.  

Ren, skillfully played by Erick Sanchez, danced his way into our hearts along with his sweet but sassy love interest, Ariel, played by Sydney Coelho.  Often the characters of Ren & Ariel are played with a little too much vehemence to the point of annoyance. Sanchez and Coelho wisely avoid this pitfall and give their characters genuine levels and tones so we empathize their plight.   Ted Schwartz as Reverend Shaw (Ariel’s Father) personified the complexity of political authority, concerned parent, spiritual leader and loving spouse.

Ariel’s friends, Rusty, Urleen and Wendy Jo played by Jessica Schwartz, Carolyn Savoia and Bryelle Burgus, respectively, blended beautifully in both their scenes and songs. Among their numbers was a “Holding Out for a Hero” sung with Ariel. Their comedic skills were revealed...along with a few of the “chorus boys.”  Thomas Ovitt also provided comic relief as Willard Hewitt, Ren’s sidekick. During “Mama Says (You Can’t Back Down),” Willard and Ren are harmoniously joined by Ismal Santana (Jeter), Noah Matson (Bickle) and Jacob Schultz (Garvin).  

The energetic, enthusiastic and exciting ensemble entertained the audience in a variety of chorus numbers with some impressive choreographed moves. The scenes featured the talents of Jack Armstrong, Sarah Baker, Caitlin Burke, Brenna Calderara, Jeremy Demelo, Faith Fernandes, Jillian Fredette, Shannon Gaffney, Matt Olencki, Sara Parille and Brailyn Rodriguez with featured performances by Will Armstrong (Cowboy Bob) and Connor Spain (Chuck Cranston),

Rounding out the adult ensemble were Priscilla Squiers (Vi Moore), Alysia Ross (Eleanor McCormack), Carolyn and Kevin McCarthy, John Armstrong, Denise Milmerstadt, Jack Moreno and Barbara Kessler.

The score is comprised of original songs composed for the musical and some classic 80’s pop hits. Musical Director, Jesse Ofgang is to be applauded for the tight harmonies and rockin’ band. The closing number of Footloose, contrasted with the black and white opening rendition. The vibrant lighting, costumes in a rainbow of colors and sparkling silver backdrop provided a party feel as it drifted into the finale of a megamix of songs. A large and appreciative audience were on their feet at the end of the show - dancing "Footloose" and fancy free!

There were many children in attendance. Be aware: there are a few gestures that parents may feel are inappropriate for young ones, although they are done in a slightly subtle manner in consideration of younger audience members.

There are many people working behind the scenes. I must make special note that Musicals at Richter embodies the true spirit of community theatre. Their team of volunteers is impressive. How wonderful that the leads from their first production, “Hello Dolly” were working house for the show. Cat Heide (Dolly) & Mike Armstrong (Vandergelder) were ushering and selling raffle tickets, respectively, to support their season-sharing show. Even the Executive Director of MAR, Robert Bria, was driving patrons to their cars with a trusty golf cart!

Scenic designers Bradford Blake and Matthew Farina provided a simple white backdrop lit with splashes of color and creatively designed set pieces that drew focus to the beautifully costumed actors (Costumes Designer Matthew Farina/Costume Coordinator Lauren Nicole Sherwood). Of special note were the creatively designed car and motorcycles by Victoria Meskill compelling the audience to use their imagination. Kudos to the actors who appeared to be riding as well as getting on and off their motorcycle to enhance the illusion. Lighting & sound design were provided by Mike Campbell and Adam Romano. The stage manager, Katie Girrdot, and her crew seamlessly moved us from scene to scene. And last, but certainly not least, the show was produced by Jennie Lozier.

So spend a summer evening under the stars. Grounds open at 7:15pm so you can bring a pre-show picnic. Chair rentals are available on site, along with a snack and soft drink concession. Curtain is at 8:30 p.m. and the show ends at approximately 11pm. The remaining performances are on July 8, 9, 10, 14, 15 & 16.

Next up will the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat beginning on July 22nd.

Note: Musicals at Richter is an outdoor performance venue. Check out their Facebook page for weather related concerns and stunning photos by David Henningsen Photography.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.musicalsatrichter.org.