Footloose cast

Pictures: Mark Senior


Wolverhampton Grand


Before we begin I must confess to two things. First of all I find it impossible not to break out into “the footloose dance” (legs flicking, arms flailing) whenever I hear it. Be it parties, weddings, the supermarket aisle . . .

And the second is that I’ve never actually seen Footloose. Not the iconic Kevin Bacon version, the recent-ish 2011 remake, nor any production of the musical.

So going in relatively blind to see this latest revival I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was both nothing and everything like what I expected it to be. 

The first and most notable factor is announced before the curtain goes up, that all the instruments are played onstage by the actors. And they really were not kidding. There is no band for this show save for drummer Bob Carr, who is positioned on a platform above the stage overlooking the action and Musical Director Mike Nichols who is on bass.

Everything else is played by almost every member of the cast (not to call out Jake Quickenden here, he actually does a great job which I’ll come back to later) and I can’t remember seeing it done so effectively.

The cast tag team in and out of scenes and musical numbers seamlessly, covering whatever instrument needs playing. Now you’d be forgiven for thinking this an odd choice for a production whose plot relies heavily on dancing.

Surely having the cast playing instruments onstage is going to slow down the action or limit the choreography? I can assure that it absolutely does not. Choreographer Matt Cole pulls no punches and this cast does it all.

 dance set

And by all I mean play, sing, dance, act, rollerblade, and even, in the adrenaline fuelled Act 1 finale I’m Free/ Heaven help me, jump rope and play guitar at the same time. It is absolutely thrilling and adds an extra level of excitement to a story that is familiar and comfortably predictable. 

As in the movie, our teenage hero Ren McCormack, played by Joshua Hawkins, and his mother (multi-roled Wendy Paver) move from Big City Chicago to Small Town Bomont, where, in this Bible Belt town, dancing has been outlawed.

Joshua Hawkins hits all the right notes as a leading man. His Ren is charming, confident and heartfelt. Clearly an experienced dancer he moves with energy and passion that Kevin Bacon would be proud of.

Ren quickly makes allies and enemies in Bomont. His main enemy being the town preacher Rev. Shaw Moore, whose own grief is the reason behind the “no dancing” rule in town. Unfortunately for Ren, Ariel, the girl he hopes will be more than just an ally, happens to be the preacher's daughter. Can Ren win over the town, the Reverend, and win the girl? Of course he can! 

Again it’s a simple and predictable story but one that I really appreciated was given some emotional weight, mostly due to the performances of the Shaw family. Lucy Munden gives Ariel a grit born of grief but manages to remain totally likeable. She has a voice perfectly suited to the 80’s songs that make up the show's score and she and Hawkins together sounded fantastic on their big ballad Almost Paradise.

 Stepping in for Darren Day to play Rev. Moore was Assistant M.D Ben Barrow and Holly Ashton as Vi Moore. The emotional heart of the story the two played their roles with a quiet subtlety that contrasted well against the more bombastic moments of the show.

gold pants dance

Say what you will about celebrity stunt casting, sometimes it can work wonderfully. And that was certainly the case with Jake Quickenden. Taking on the role of Willard Hewitt, Ren’s new found best friend, his is a comedy performance that hits every beat. It’s been a while since Quickenden appeared on X-factor so I almost forgot that he could sing.

But his vocals are as effortless as his performance. And the sub-plot romance between Willard and Rusty (played by Oonagh Cox) is so adorable that I just wanted more of them. Although we are given quite a bit more of Jake then I think anyone was expecting thanks to the 80’s music video inspired number I need a hero and a tiny pair of gold pants…

The real strength of this production is that director Racky Plews knows what the audience wants and leans into it. From the costumes, strictly 80s, no modern interpretations here thanks. To the set, mostly made up of pieces that the cast move around themselves so there are almost no awkward lights-down-scene-change moments.

It’s all designed to keep the energy high and evoke nostalgia so that by the time we revisit the title song Footloose for the finale the atmosphere is electric and you find it almost impossible to stay in your seat. And as if the cast haven’t worked hard enough already, they then dance their socks off for a closing Megamix. 

Having had the previous evening's performance cancelled due to cast illness. It was lovely to see how pleased the cast were to get their show on to the stage and I’m sure that the run will go from strength to strength. As I said earlier, I’ve never seen the movie Footloose, and after watching this production I don’t think I’ll bother. I’m quite happy to let this be my definitive version.

Janine Henderson


Index page Grand Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre