Review: Footloose at the Orchard Theatre

Footloose, as most people above a certain age will know, was the 1984 movie starring a young Kevin Bacon as teenager Ren McCormack. Forced to leave Chicago and move to the small town of Bomont, Ren discovers that dancing’s been banned by the town council, and immediately sets about trying to change their minds. It’s based on a true story about Elmore City, Oklahoma, and touches on issues of religion, loss, prejudice and gender roles.

Now adapted for the stage by the movie’s original creator Dean Pitchford, and directed by Racky Plews, Footloose is a toe-tapping triumph of a show in which the multi-talented cast are also the band; they may not always be allowed to dance but they can still express themselves through music, playing everything from the electric guitar to the oboe. This gives the show a very collaborative feel, reminiscent of the brilliant Once (although in every other respect the two couldn’t be more different).

Luke Baker as Ren and the cast of Footloose. Photo Credit Matt Martin
Photo credit: Matt Martin

It might surprise some people to learn that the show’s big name star, Gareth Gates, doesn’t play the central role of Ren. That honour goes to Luke Baker, who gives an impressive, layered performance as the tortured teen. Gates, meanwhile, plays Ren’s friend Willard, in what turns out to be a perfect piece of casting. He’s a bit awkward, nervous around girls and far too attached to his mama, but with a twinkly charm and impeccable comic timing that’s guaranteed to win over anyone who still thinks of him as just that guy from Pop Idol. And his performance is memorable for another reason… but I won’t ruin the surprise.

Maureen Nolan – no stranger to emotional roles after recently reprising her role as Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers – plays Vi Moore, the preacher’s wife torn between loyalty to her husband (Nigel Lister) and concern about the rebellious behaviour of their daughter, Ariel (Hannah Price, who makes her professional debut in style). But it would be wrong to single out any one cast member; this is very much a team effort, and a fantastic one at that.

Photo credit: Matt Martin
Photo credit: Matt Martin

Choreographer Matthew Cole has captured the freedom of dance that’s so key to the story; though it may not all be particularly elegant, it’s full of energy and an irresistible joy to watch. The cast also make the line dancing routines look very easy, which I know from brutal experience they really aren’t. (I went to a line dancing class the other day. Let’s move on.)

And finally there’s the music, some of which was written specially for the musical by Tom Snow – but the tunes that really get the audience bopping in their seats are the classic hits from the movie, which include I Need A Hero, Let’s Hear It For The Boy and, of course, the title track. It’s a perfect piece of 80s nostalgia, for those of us old enough to remember that far back; for everyone else it’s just great fun.

Footloose is at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford, until Saturday 13th February.

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