Based on the hit film of the 1980s, Footloose opened on Broadway in 1998 and has drawn huge audiences on its oft-repeated tours. The 2022 version stars popular performer Jake Quickenden and the experienced musical theatre actor Darren Day but this is a production where every cast member contributes significantly to a highly entertaining experience.
Forced to move from Chicago to the small rural community of Bomont, Ren finds problems from day one in his new environment. As a newcomer in the community, he attracts trouble and doesn’t help himself by falling for Ariel Moore who has problems of her own. The rebellious daughter of local minister Shaw Moore, Ariel is in a relationship with local trailer-trash Chuck who doesn’t take kindly to Ren’s approaches.
The slow-witted Willard befriends Ren and guides him through the local social minefield but the main frustration is the lack of outlets for the town’s youngsters. Reverend Moore – backed by his Bridge Club and ultra-conservative local council – has banned dancing in the community, All references to rock ‘n’ roll are forbidden for being what the minister blames as being the cause of a tragic car accident that killed four local teenagers.
The plot revolves around conflict and how to resolve it. The entertainment ban creates tension between the generations and within marriage as Vi Moore struggles to support her husband’s stance. However, it also contains some classic love stories as Ren tries to win Ariel’s hand while Rusty is in despair as she tries to make Willard realise that she is desperately in love with him.
It is a credit to the cast that the audience is drawn into the relationships – there are audible sighs from the audience when Vi and Shaw are reconciled – and the feel-good nature of the film tugs at even the hardest of heartstrings.
Joshua Hawkins marks himself out as a name to watch out for in musical theatre as he gives a highly polished and energetic performance as Ren and strikes up perfect partnerships with his potential partner Ariel and new-found friend Willard. He also has a particularly poignant scene with his mother Ethel (Geri Allen)
Lucy Munden has a great stage presence as Ariel and has a beautiful duet with Hawkins in Almost Paradise while the role of Willard is a perfect fit for the highly likeable Jake Quickenden who wowed the audience throughout.
Darren Day shows all of his expertise as Reverend Moore. His is the most challenging role to play but his performance ensures that the audience is able to empathise with his inner conflicts and he is well supported by Holly Ashton as his wife. The on-stage relationship is convincing and Ashton is perfect in her solo Can You Find It In Your Heart.
Oonagh Cox displays her vocal and comedic talents as Rusty, Tom Mussell is a menacing Chuck and there is a multi-talented ensemble who not only make the stage a riot of movement, colour and sound but also provide the musical accompaniment.
With hit music from the 1980s, slick choreography from Matt Cole – just watch the intricacies of Mama’s Eyes -,effective design by Sara Perks and rousing musical direction by Nathan Dawe, Director Racky Plews has fashioned a feast for the soul that had the audience erupting with joy at the finale to demand more.
According to the song, this is Almost Paradise. This production goes way beyond that to provide sheer musical Heaven.
The production has a running time of approximately 2 hours 30 minutes and continues until March 26th. For ticket details contact 08448717615 or atgtickets.com/stoke