Story: After Ethel McCormack’s husband abandons his family, she and her teen son Ren leave Chicago to accept the offer of relatives to move in with them in the town of Bomont out west. Moving from a big city to such a tiny village while trying to recover from his father’s desertion is bad enough for Ren. It gets even worse, though, when he learns that dancing is forbidden in Bomont.
Ren makes friends with a gawky guy named Willard, who tells the new kid that Bomont banned dancing several years ago after four local teens died in a tragic car accident after a night of dancing and, presumably, drinking, a move orchestrated by the local minister and town leader, Reverend Shaw Moore.
Moore’s daughter Ariel rebels against her father’s strict measures and is known to hang out with local tough guy Chuck Cranston. When she flirts with Ren in his new job at the Burger Blast hangout, Chuck threatens Ren but is kicked out of the establishment by its owner, Betty Blast.
Ren soon gets a reputation as a troublemaker because of his ignorance of the no-dancing rules as well as his outspoken nature. He further aggravates the community when he petitions the local school board to allow the high school to hold a spring dance.
Even though Ren has the support of Ariel, Willard and their friends as well as many adults in the town, he has to persuade the most formidable person in Bomont: Reverend Moore. He’ll need all the help he can muster to make that happen.
Highlights: The Muny, which handed out flyers with names of shows for more than 9,000 patrons to vote on for next year’s schedule on opening night, offers a foot-tapping and agreeable version of last year’s leader in its public opinion polls, Footloose.
Other Info: Christian Borle, who performed as Willard in the Broadway and national touring productions of the 1998 musical, makes his musical theater directorial debut in The Muny’s second production of Footloose, following its earlier version in 2010. Borle knows how to elicit laughs for the eccentric character of Willard as well as how to get a crowd swaying to the show’s agreeable musical score.
Dean Pitchford, who wrote the screenplay for the 1984 movie on which the musical is based, contributes lyrics to the musical version, which features music by Tom Snow, with additional music by Eric Carmen, Sammy Hagar, Jim Steinman and Kenny Loggins, the later of whom composed music for the catchy title tune.
Footloose features a number of agreeable tunes which climbed the pop charts in the ‘80s, including Let’s Hear It for the Boy, Holding Out for a Hero, Almost Paradise and I’m Free. Choreographer Jessica Hartman fully utilizes The Muny cast and ensemble to give free-wheeling expression to the rock numbers as well as the country-tinged Let’s Hear It for the Boy, which is set in a barbecue joint visited by Ren, Ariel, Willard and his wannabe girlfriend Rusty some 90 miles from Bomont.
Andrew Graham’s music direction captures the lively flavor of the likable score while Borle focuses a cast which faithfully conveys the feelings of both the frustrated teens and the unhappy minister.
In its serendipitous fashion, The Muny has cast Broadway’s original Ren, Jeremy Kushnier, in the role of the well-intentioned but restrictive minister. Kushnier is convincing in the part, making it complex rather than one-dimensional, with some well-executed assistance from Heather Ayers as Moore’s loving wife Vi, who is sympathetic to the children’s cause.
Mason Reeves brings plenty of energy and personality to the rambunctious and troubled Ren, showing off lots o’ good moves on the dance floor. He pairs well with McKenzie Kurtz as the feisty and troubled Ariel, who showcases her powerful voice on the rock anthem, Holding Out for a Hero.
Eli Mayer and Khailah Johnson justly win the lion’s share of the audience’s laughs for their good-natured portrayals of the easy-going Willard and his determined girlfriend Rusty, respectively, with the latter especially entertaining as she warbles Let’s Hear It for the Boy.
The supporting cast includes fine efforts by Darlesia Cearcy as Ren’s understanding mother Ethel, Aaron Kaburick as his stern Uncle Wes and Natasha Yvette Williams as his welcoming Aunt Lulu. Andrew Alstat does well as the scheming Cranston. Rohit Gopal, Antonio Rodriguez and Graham Keen are a hoot as the backup group for Willard on the comic number Mama Says.
Maggie Kuntz and Katja Rivera Yanko are fine as Ariel’s pals Urleen and Wendy Jo, respectively, while Christopher Tipps and Jonathan Savage fill the bill as Chuck’s henchmen, Lyle and Travis, in that order.
Local stalwarts Patrick Blindauer, Jerry Vogel and Ben Nordstrom do fine work as the coach, principal and local constable while Rebecca Young nicely handles the part of the coach’s wife. Florrie Bagel is effective both as Betty Blast and a cowgirl.
Greg Emetaz’s video design, with a row of telephone poles and an endless highway, nicely complement the set designed by Tim Mackabee and lit by Rob Denton. Kelley Jordan’s wig design, especially coach’s mullet, comically accentuates Leon Dobkowski’s country costumes.
You know the music and you also likely are familiar with the story, which actually is based loosely on a real-life situation. Everybody cut Footloose.
Company: The Muny
Venue: The Muny in Forest Park
Dates: Through July 24
Tickets: Free to $100; contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Phillip Hamer