Theatre Review | "Footloose" @ Nottingham Arts Theatre
Footloose the Musical
16th March 2023, 7.30pm
Disclaimer: Complimentary tickets were gifted for review purposes. All views and opinions are my own
I have a confession to make. I have never seen Footloose. Not the 1984 movie, not the remake and not the musical that was adapted from the film in 1998. Shocking, I know. And I call myself an 80’s child. So when I was invited to go and watch the Nottingham Arts Youth Theatre production of Footloose I accepted, not really knowing what to expect.
If, like me, you have avoided the phenomenon that is Footloose for the past 30 years, the story goes something like this: Ren McCormack and his newly-single mother move from Chicago to a small town called Bomont, a town run by the Reverend Shaw Moore and his very conservative town council. Ren, along with the Reverend’s rebellious daughter, Ariel and friends Rusty, Willard, Wendy Jo and Ullean struggle against the oppressive rules of the town and fight for the right to live, and dance, as they choose.
Under the direction of Christopher Mundy, this is an energetic, fast-paced production, which positively overflows with talent and potential from its young cast.
Leading that cast is George Young as Ren McCormack. What can I say about George’s performance? I was blown away by his confidence and charisma from the very moment he stepped out on stage. George’s portrayal of Ren had heaps of attitude and occasionally aggression, while still being incredibly likeable and full of emotional depth. George also did a fantastic job with all of his musical numbers, whether vocally or in his many dance routines. Ren really is the driving force behind most of the action in the show and George handled it brilliantly. A real star performance!
Equally as impressive was Francesca Lewis as Ariel Moore, the Reverend’s daughter who was constantly battling against her father's strict rules and standards. Francesca’s performance was thoroughly professional throughout, whether in her uptempo dance numbers or in the more emotional ballads, which showcased her stunning vocals to perfection. I was in awe!
Zach Silcock gave a standout performance as Willard, Ren's new best friend. Zach committed 100% to this role from the very beginning, displaying a quite remarkable skill for comedy which had the whole audience in stitches. He also coped admirably with a difficult Southern accent which was simultaneously convincing and hilarious. (Willard was also Poppy’s favourite character from the show, which makes Zach part of a very elite and select group of individuals - she has discerning taste!)
Hanna Fletcher gave possibly my favourite performance (in a very highly contested category) as Rusty, one of Ariel’s close friends. Another performer with a fabulous singing voice and great dance skills, it was Hanna’s comedic efforts that really made her stand out for me. She milked every single moment she had on that stage to the absolute maximum and she quickly became the character who drew my focus (in the best possible way). Based on audience reactions, I think she was a winner with them too, so I think she’s definitely someone to watch out for in the future.
Freya Rhodes and Eloise Rees both gave really strong, character-filled performances as Ariel’s other friends Urleen and Wendy Jo respectively. Another two strong singers and dancers, I really enjoyed how much sass and expression both girls put into their roles. They made me laugh out loud on so many occasions. I think the scenes where all four girls were on stage together were possibly my highlights of the night.
I recently saw Shantanu Bhumbra as Fagin in NAT’s production of Oliver and I certainly saw a very different side of him as the Reverend Shaw Moore. It would have been so easy for this character to be a one-note villain, but Shantanu managed to bring so much complexity and nuance to the character, giving us a wonderful range of emotions. I was also really impressed with his strong vocal quality in his big solo number “Heaven Help Me”
We really were spoiled for choice when it came to vocal talent in this show and the next great example of that is Emily Hope Wilkins as VI Moore, Ariel’s mother and the Reverend’s long-suffering wife. This is a more serious role than I'm used to seeing Emily in and it was really nice to get her to see her flex those acting muscles and give us a real emotion. As always she worked complete magic with her big solo numbers, demonstrating that stunning voice that we have all come to know and love.
Eleanor Carty stepped in to save the day after cast illness and took over the role of Ethel McCormack. Eleanor gave a really convincing, sympathetic performance as Ren’s mother, who tries to support her son while also dealing with the judgmental townspeople. I particularly enjoyed the beautiful trio, “ “ sung by Eleanor as Ethel, along with Vi and Ariel.
When not understudying supporting roles on stage, Eleanor was also the assistant Choreographer and Director, so she has to be commended for producing such a confident performance on such short notice.
Jonathan Jaycock did a great job as Chuck, Ariel’s intimidating and controlling boyfriend. Not the nicest character, but Jonathan really brought Chuck to life. Chuck’s friends Lyle and Travis were also played brilliantly by Jamie Adlam and Arlo Perrons.
Jamie also had a starring moment at the start of Act II as “Cowboy Bob” in the high-energy “Still Rockin” - It would be hard to say who enjoyed this moment more - Jamie, or the audience!
Liam Brown, Giles Briggs and Charles Beckett were thoroughly entertaining as high-school students Bickle, Garvin and Jeter. Their back-up vocals and dancing during Willard’s “Mama Says” were a particular highlight of mine.
Other notable performances came from Louis Elliment (Wes), Jack Kent (Coach), Caitlin Young (Lulu/Betty), Preston Nash (Principal) and Hemi Lewis (Eleanor). I can only apologise if I’ve missed anybody off, but there really was not one weak link in this cast.
It’s also worth mentioning that many of the ensemble played multiple roles, while understudying even more, so this really was a versatile and hard-working group of individuals.
I'll be honest - I didn't even know the soundtrack to Footloose contained more than just the famous title song. Thanks to the powers at Wikipedia, I have been reliably informed that the score for the musical is made up of the majority of songs from the film plus some original material. While I don't think this is going to be going on my list of top favourite musical soundtracks any time soon, there were some really upbeat exciting musical numbers as well as some really beautiful ballads.
All of the songs were accompanied by a fabulous live band, led by Gareth Wynne, who was also the Musical Director for the show. The overall sound quality that was produced by the case and the band was really satisfying.
Dance is obviously an integral part of Footloose and I thought Jessica Royce did a great job bringing the story to life through her choreography. The Megamix at the end of the show, where the whole cast join on stage for one bring dance montage was really exciting and a great way to leave the audience wanting to dance their way out of the theatre.
The set was simple, but effective (my personal favourite kind of set.) The backstage crew worked quickly and efficiently to switch the scene seamlessly from one location to the next, keeping the flow of show going.
This is the first production I’ve seen by Nottingham Arts Youth Theatre, but I am certain it won’t be the last. It was such a privilege to see so much potential and up-and-coming talent on one stage. It was clear to the whole audience that everyone involved with the show had put so much effort in and they should all be spectacularly proud of themselves.
Footloose is only on at the Nottingham Arts Theatre for a limited time (closing 18th March), but if you aren’t lucky enough to catch this show, may I suggest to keep any eye out for their production next year - Les Miserables, School Edition!
If you are interested in trying to grab a last minute ticket head over to