Musical Theatre / “Footloose”, Queanbeyan Players. At The Q until July 2. Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.
BASED on a 1984 film of the same name, the professional production of “Footloose” was not a commercial success when first produced in Australia.
However, over the years the show has been embraced by community groups largely because the storyline about generational tensions contains meaty roles for a range of age types.
It has a score with catchy tunes, and requires a large ensemble of young performers able to execute the many dance routines integral to the story. All of which made it a perfect choice for Queanbeyan Players.
Its production of “Footloose” has been an obvious passion project for director Anthony Swadling, choreographer, Rachel Thornton and musical director, Jenna Hinton. Together they’ve successfully harnessed the talents and enthusiasm of a large, carefully chosen cast of performers with the skills of a team of talented technical creatives, to produce an entertaining, effervescent, even at times unexpectedly touching, evening of musical theatre.
The storyline of “Footloose” revolves around a young man, Ren, who with his mother takes up residence in a small American town where dancing and loud music have been forbidden by the town’s conservative council. Ren’s decision to challenge this law brings him into conflict with the local minister, who happens to be the father of Ariel, to whom Ren is attracted.
Leading a talented cast, Luke Ferdinands is outstanding as Ren. A talented actor with a fine singing voice and the ability to really “sell” the song, his spectacular rendition of “I Can’t Stand Still” with its killer final note, drew cheers from the first-night audience and set the tone for the rest of the evening.
Matching Ferdinand, as the wilful preacher’s daughter, Ariel, Sammy Marceddo also impressed with her strong dramatic performance and excellent vocals. Their duet, “Almost Paradise”, cleverly staged on staircases manipulated by the cast, provided just one of many vocal highlights.
John Whinfield not only sings well but knows how to capture the laughs as Ren’s friend, Willard, while Kara Murphy, Kay Liddiard and Emily Pogson as Ariel’s girlfriends all contribute strong vocal and comedic support.
Pat Gallagher brings dramatic heft and a fine singing voice to his pivotal role as Rev Shaw Moore. His teaming with Sarah Hull, quite lovely in a gracefully sustained performance as his gentle, caring wife, Vi, provides a thoughtful dramatic counterpoint among the otherwise exuberant activity.
Elsewhere, Zac Izzard as the town bully, Chuck, Andrew Finegan as both Principal Clark and Cowboy Bob, David Gambrill as Coach Dunbar, and Sarah Powell as both Eleanor and Betty, contribute scene-stealing dramatic and comedic highlights.
Outstanding in this production is the quality of the singing throughout from both ensemble and the soloists. Supported by Jenna Hinton’s fine rock combo band and a sextet of pit singers, the harmonies achieved by the ensemble are quite thrilling, indicating hours of attentive rehearsal.
Similarly Rachel Thornton’s inventive choreography, executed by each member of the large ensemble with a gusto that convinced they were having their best time, provided authenticity and spectacle for the many large production numbers made possible by the spacious set design by Steve Galinec and Anita Davenport.
Despite a couple of unfortunate costume choices, some missed sound cues on opening night, and some hesitation executing Anthony Swadling’s clever scene transitions, all of which will no doubt be corrected, “Footloose” will take its place among some of the Queanbeyan Players most successful productions.
However, if you haven’t secured tickets you’ll have missed out, because remarkably, tickets for all performances were sold out before the show even opened.
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