Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Review: (Winnipeg) Footloose

Everybody Cut Foot Loose! (Just don’t put it in the mail and send it to the Conservatives, please.) 
(And if you’re writing headlines about either, try not to put them together, ok, 
Winnipeg Metro? Jeeze.) 
by Nanette Soucy

I have a vivid memory of early childhood afternoons spent in the kid next door’s living room, dancing about, swooning about Kevin Bacon with all the affected  passion 6 year olds can muster, and getting in trouble for breaking knick-knacks by kicking off the white patent mary-janes we’d worn to church. Tammy Ferguson’s mom was the fuddy-duddy preacher in our lives, banning fun by forcing us outside, our Sunday shoes pitched out the door behind us.

Flawlessly choreographed, the fiercely energetic cast of Rainbow Stage’s Footloose delivers classic musical theatre kitsch with unselfconscious relish. Although at times during the first half, the dialogue seems to be merely biding time until the next song, the show picks up quickly and ravishes us with the 80’s pop hits we come looking for in the second half. Troublesome City Kid Ren McCormack, played by David Ball, brings the groove back to repressed, anti-intellectual, rule-bound Bomont, a town  whose conservatism, manifest in the law banning dancing, is brilliantly expressed in the song Learning to be Silent, where the town’s womenfolk sing la la la, lips pursed, unable to speak truth to the powers that be, their husbands, their boyfriends, their fathers.  The overboard abstemiousness of Bomont adults should be a hilarious caricature, but unfortunately rings true for many contemporary American states,  which makes Footloose all the more relevant in this era of wars against women and attempts to legislate “traditional family values” that slowly creep their way into Canadian consciousness from our neighbours to the South. Ren McCormack’s talent for compelling us to open up and let our hair down shines brightest in the transformation of his podunk friend Willard Hewitt, from bowlegged doofus, to  dancing machine. Markian Tarasiuk manages his character’s arc with outstanding and delightful inertia.

Like so many teen movies of the era, from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to Pump Up the Volume, the gist of the Footloose story is of grown-ups cramping teen style, and of determined kids fighting the conservative adult squareness that encroaches on their good time. But as director Carson Nattrass notes, it is fundamentally the story of a community dealing with loss, and no more appropriate opener could have been chosen for Rainbow Stage’s 57th season, as their community mourns the loss, and celebrates the life of Executive Producer Ken Peter, who passed away unexpectedly this winter after having recommended this particular show for the upcoming year. Grief can overcome a community and compel us to resent that anyone could ever sing or dance again.  Youth, however, springs eternal, and joy is indomitable. As Willard Hewitt’s mama tells us, once you climb a mountain, you can’t back down. Doubtless, Ken Peter would have wanted it this way.

Footloose continues to July 8

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