Shake, Shake, Shake
It's been 20 years since Kevin Bacon got the girls all gaga in Footloose. But the 1984 dance flick did more than turn Bacon into a heartthrob; the free-wheeling film featured multiple platinum tunes and became an '80s anthem for kids who loved to dance. Good news for anyone with a hankering to get back to those big-haired days of leg warmers and glitter: The stage version of Footloose is alive and kicking up its shiny high heels at the Great Caruso Dinner Theater.
The story is the sweetest sort of '80s confection. A lonely, fatherless boy named Ren (Jason Blagec) moves from the fast-paced big city to the small town of Bomont, where a terrible thing has happened. The Reverend Shaw (Steve Bullitt) has managed to convince the town council to outlaw dancing. There's no dancing permitted, ever, not even at the prom. Poor Ren. He just can't stand still, and soon enough he becomes the town badass by getting the kids all riled up and shaking their booties right along with him.
Of course, a fun-loving boy like Ren would have to fall in love with the reverend's daughter. And the lovely Ariel (Brooke Wilson) turns out to be trouble with a big old T. She lies to her father and hangs out in a beer joint -- meaning she's the best sort of girl for a boy to love. Over the course of the play, we find out what's eating Ariel, which has a lot to do with why dancing's not okay. A bunch of kids were killed in a car wreck, and as it turns out, they'd been making merry and -- you guessed it -- dancing, which is how the preacher has convinced the town that it's evil.
Woven around this bit of teen-angst fluff are some of the tunes that anyone who lived through the '80s will never forget, including "Let's Hear It for the Boy," "Almost Paradise," "Holding Out for a Hero" and, of course, "Footloose." These four platinum hits by Dean Pitchford and Tom Snow (who was nominated for an Academy Award for "Let's Hear It for the Boy") are among the top-selling songs of the '80s. And be warned: They'll knock around your skull for days after seeing the show. But if you enjoyed this sort of music two decades ago, or if you can't get enough of '80s oldies, the versions coming from director Michael Tapley's young and bouncy cast will get your feet tapping.
Among the strongest members of this cast is Deanna Julian, who plays Rusty, Ariel's ditsy blond best friend. She handles "Let's Hear It for the Boy" with admirable faux pop star energy, and she knows how to squeeze laughs from the lamest jokes. She also makes a terrific partner for Kyle Green, who steals the show every time he ambles out as Willard, Rusty's thickheaded, skinny friend who can't dance.
Blagec's Ren is most likable when he's leaping across the stage in some of the show's surprisingly exciting dance moves. Choreographed by Tapley and Patricia Salvo on a very tiny stage, the actor bursts into leaps and spins that manage to look both graceful and powerful, despite the confines of the space. The only disappointment is that the choreographers aren't more willing to get their dancers off the stage and out into the audience, where they could have a lot of fun.
While Blagec's dance moves are smooth, his Ren comes off as too whiny to be as dangerous as these Bomont parents seem to think he is. On the other hand, Wilson's Ariel is terrifically naughty as she swings her hips and mouths off to Dad. And though she's not nearly so self-destructive as was Lori Singer's Ariel in the film, Wilson is a convincing actress, whose beautiful, full-bodied voice turns silly songs like "Almost Paradise" into surprisingly moving pop schmaltz.
Taken all together -- the dinner, the wine, the young and happy cast singing unforgettable pop radio tunes -- Footloose makes for a fun little night, even if Kevin Bacon and his tight-fitting jeans are nowhere to be found.
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