Reviews - Sept 2019
Friday night the 21st was opening night for Footloose at Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center (WDPAC), and there was basically a full house - which is what you want to see opening night! It was a very friendly crowd for the most part, which was a good thing because this show really needed another week of rehearsals, and an indifferent group not filled with family and friends would have made for an ugly evening.
Truth is, this show has a cast of 25 and about 6 adults; the rest of the cast is a mix of high school, college and recent college grads. So when I say the production was of general high school quality, it's partly the cast makeup and partly the effort shown on stage. I avoid reviewing children's theater because criticism of those shows doesn't really help the actors, and provides a feeling similar to kicking puppies - nothing good comes out of that. So reviewing a community theater production that's basically a high school group (in age at the very least) is borderline; I feel committed to the review - that's the idea, after all - but I'll be keeping an eye out for this sort of 'review trap' in the future. I'll be highlighting the positive performances by name.
Footloose (if you're unaware) rotates around the fish out of water trope, a teenage boy moved from the big city to a small town which has had a tragedy, one that caused a knee-jerk reaction - specifically outlawing dancing. Cue new teen bucking the system and fixing the town in the process. The music is generally well known, the story understandable when heard (more on this in a moment), and expectations are straightforward.
The issues with the production fell into three areas: character commitment, desire, and technical issues.
Character commitment: The leads (Ren, the new-in-town teen rebel played by Adourin Owens; Ariel, the Pastor's daughter who enjoys bad boys played by Madison Gilleon; and Ariel's parents: featuring Mike Yebba as Reverend Shaw Moore and Jenny Congiardo as Vi Moore) all took their character and wore it as a skin (or armor in the case of Gilleon's Ariel). Their characters were visibly different on stage from the rest, with the exception of Willard Hewitt (Max Wadley), the comic-relief best buddy of Ren, who used the uncomfortable-ness of Williard very well on stage. The other cast members felt as though they had leg irons and handcuffs handed to them with their costumes - especially in the large dance numbers, the lack of focus and care was obvious, both in character and choreo.
Desire: this show has a number of BIG moments, or GOOD moments, and gives multiple characters chances to shine. If you drop the first line of a song, lose the words, miss the lyrical entrance, are frequently trying to find the key or are flat, more rehearsal was probably needed, OR you were content with your performance level in rehearsal. First night nerves, you say? Perhaps.
Technical issues; these were BAD, and frankly (right or wrong) I expect much better from WDPAC. Mics being activated after the first full line spoken on sung by that actor on stage occurred several times; in the first act one actress' mic wasn't cut off after she left the stage, and her ongoing conversation offstage while changing was louder than the conversation on stage; sound levels in general were MUCH TOO HIGH - more than half a dozen people in front of me had fingers in their ears during songs being belted on stage - for the second time recently, a Compressor is a dire need here. (For more info, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamic_range_compression - in short, a Compressor or Limiter keeps loud sounds from getting TOO loud); along with the sound issues, Act 2 had lighting problems - significantly two lights behind the grand valance that are meant to spin during some of the dance numbers. From the first eight rows it fired towards a valance curtain behind the grand and appeared in the corner of the eye are a fire or flashing police-type light; in the next scene (which had very nice 5 point men's harmony) two lights left and right were doing this; from the light board in the balcony these wouldn't have been seen, but they were VERY frustrating for the front half of the audience.
Owen's Ren showed skill and maturity as an actor, full of nuance and fun while his righteous anger developed on a slow burn. his romantic interactions with Gilleon's Ariel were touching and believable. Yebba's anger and upset as the Reverend generally went painfully loud (again needing a compressor/limiter) but he DID make you dislike his character, to the point that his turning away from his path against dance seemed abrupt and unnatural. Congiardo's turn as Vi goes from doormat to velvet-lined steel over the course of the production, and her character arc is the most comfortable. There were tears and sobs around me over the reconciliation the Reverend and his wife achieve onstage, and in that, the two adults brought more of an emotional response than almost the entire rest of the show;the other stand out was 'Almost Paradise' duet sung by Owens and Gilleon, which also drew out catches of breath and light sobs from the rows behind me - in my opinion they wrestle with a song that has been run into the ground and give it new life in their own styles.
The show runs one weekend after this, and I'd hope that by then some of these issues won't be as noticeable - but the sound may need a different touch.
Grade: C - mostly family-friendly, children under 10 might have some awkward questions about a few lines or movements onstage.