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Review: Good Company’s ‘Footloose’ still dances, even with a few blisters

THEATER REVIEW

The stage musical version of “Footloose” has never been a critical darling. But it’s lively and upbeat. And I was surprised the first time I saw it (many years ago) by how much I liked the music.

I’m not talking about the famous tunes from the movie — “Holding Out for a Hero,” “Somebody’s Eyes,” “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” and, of course, the title song — although those did offer a nice memory-lane satisfaction. What surprised me were the original songs and lyrics written by Tom Snow and Dean Pitchford for the musical. I find them eminently hummable: the church-choir arrangements in “On Any Sunday”; the driving melody of “The Girl Gets Around”; the plaintive sweetness of “Can You Find It in Your Heart.”

Pictured above: Greg Ruud, as the minister in “Footloose,” is a standout. Photo: Good Company Players

And especially the yappy exuberance of “Mama Says,” with its throaty, barbershop-style harmonies and silly lyrics. (I could listen to the tenor soar above the melody line all day.)

The new Good Company Players production of the 1998 Broadway version offers some strong singing — particularly by the gals who sing “Hero.” Some of that singing wasn’t so strong at the opening weekend performance I attended, with “Mama Says,” in particular, failing to live up to its show-stopping potential. (How much of a crowd pleaser should it be? The composer wrote an encore and put it right there in the score.)

The production also offers some strong choreography, which is essential for a show all about a small Texas town whose influential pastor has essentially banned dancing.

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The GCP production, directed by Elizabeth Fiester, is pretty solid, and it offers a couple of standout acting performances by Greg Ruud and Ashley Wilkinson as the conflicted preacher and his wife. I also particularly like Jacob Cozzi as the dopey Willard, the sidekick farm boy who becomes friends with the new kid from the big city. Here’s a review rundown:

The storyline: Alex Figueroa plays Ren, a teen who moves with his mother from Chicago to the small town of Bomont after his father abandons them. There he’s shocked to find 1) no dancing; 2) still no dancing; and 3) did we mention no dancing? Needless to say, he’s irked. But when he gets friendly with the preacher’s daughter, Ariel (Alli Stemple), who’s more of a wild child than you’d expect, Ren is determined to shake things up.

Standout actors, Part 1: Ruud is a wonderful Rev. Shaw Moore, bringing to the role a swirl of gruff stubbornness, overbearing sanctimouniousness and deeply buried grief. (Ruud used to be a minister in another life, and he’s so at ease in the pulpit that I half expected someone to pass the collection plate to the audience.) He’s matched by a strong Wilkinson as his wife, Vi, who aches for the loving and tender man her husband used to be.

Standout actors, Part 2: Cozzi has good comic timing and a strong voice as Willard, and I found myself rooting for the character. (Though “Mama Says” fell short for me, I really liked his jiu jitsu moves.) Mallory Parker and Audrey Portela, as Ariel’s friends, are memorable.

The voice: Aubree Facio, as the upbeat Rusty, can Belt It Out. Wow. Her “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” is a highlight.

The rest: Alex Figueroa brings a lively enthusiasm to the role of Ren, but for me, he never really connected with his character’s pent-up frustrations or found a way to really carry the show. Likewise, Shawn Williams is adequate as Chuck, the loser boyfriend. And Stemple has a lovely voice but sometimes came across as too timid on stage, especially when she was struggling to convey Ariel’s “bad girl” persona.

The direction, etc.: Things felt a little more crowded than usual on the Roger Rocka’s stage, particularly in terms of Wilkinson’s energetic choreography. Costumes (by Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed) and scenic design (by David Pierce) were their usual high caliber. Evan Commins’ lighting design helped create some memorable moments, including beneath the train tracks.

The takeaway: This production gets a little wobbly on its feet at times. But I do like the music, and there are a lot of frisky moves and crowd-pleasing moments. Mama says the acting could be a bit crisper, but this cast still knows how to “cut loose.”


Show info

‘Footloose,’ a Good Company Players production at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theatre. Continues through Jan. 13. Tickets (some including dessert or dinner) are $32-$60.

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

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