by Jim Murchison
My seat was in row H and so I ventured down the aisle getting ever closer to the stage. As I reached row J, I stepped down two more positions and found myself at row G. That’s when it hit me! There is no I in the theatre. Actually there are lots of them. There are 42 people in this production. It makes Pride and Prejudice look like an intimate family gathering. The credit for making this production a true ensemble has to go to the dedicated production team headed by artistic director Shaun Toohey, but equally important is the musical direction of Wendy Berkelaar who also plays keyboards in the 8 piece orchestra and the choreography of Gabe Wolinsky. It is a huge task to move and motivate a group that large and mostly not possible for professional companies to undertake because of the expense.
I frankly find this type of production more direct and more appealing
Nancy Solman's set pieces spin around and drop in to create rustic churches, meeting halls, burger joints, homes and train bridges, but most importantly they allow room to dance. I don't really wish to take away anything from the giant corporately funded mega productions that tour across the continent, but I frankly find this type of production more direct and more appealing because it truly is a dedicated community telling a story about a community.
While the story might not be a modern, true epic tale like Titanic or have the fanatical following of a restructured classic opera like Rent, it is rooted in a universal theme of a quest for freedom. Although there is no actual town of Bomont; the story of a small town, controlled by the religious right, that creates an ordinance banning dancing is based on a real place and circumstance. That is all you need to know. I have 42 actors to talk about. Just kidding, but I will mention some.
The central love interest is between Ren McCormack played by Mathieu-Philippe Perras and Ariel Moore played by Courtney Vezina. Perras has a nice voice, but it is the way he moves that makes him stand out. Even towns that allow dancing would be impressed with his energy and agility whether he’s in sneakers or roller skates. Vezina's flirty Ariel has lots of angelic sweetness in her tone but can grow with the added raunch when the need arises. She also plays the country character authentically with the aid of her striking red cowboy boots.
Rebecca Abbott, Andréa Black and Stephanie Stroud are Ariel’s buddies as Rusty, Urleen and Wendy Jo respectively. All provide good emotional and vocal support. Black does double duty as dance captain and Stroud has some great comic timing. I have already made note of Ms. Abbott’s ethereal gospel runs when I reviewed Rent and they are evident again, particularly in the show stopping “Let’s Hear it for The Boy” supported by the company. Her acting, by the way is as good or better than her singing.
The adult ensemble pitches in as well.
Of Ren’s friends, Phillip Merriman as Willard Hewitt is terrific as the shy, sometimes awkward, ready for a fight country boy. He plays the awkwardness hilariously, but he does get over it. His performance of “Mama Says” supported by the other boys is another show stopping tune.
The adult ensemble pitches in as well. I particularly enjoyed “Learning to be Silent” performed by Donna Castonguay as Vi Moore the long suffering pastor’s wife, Debbie Millett as Ren’s abandoned mother Ethel McCormack and Courtney Vezina’s Ariel.
For any successful piece of theatre you need conflict and for that you need villains. The primary adult villain is played by Ken Tucker as the misguided pastor Reverend Shaw Moore. He has a lovely rich voice and is suitably flustered and conflicted.
Brennan Richardson plays Ariel’s abusive boyfriend Chuck Cranston with an arrogant swagger very effectively. He is the only character that doesn’t have an epiphany and correct his evil ways, so he received a smattering of well earned boos that he should be soundly proud of.
In Andrew Portolesi’s biography, who plays Bickle in the play, it states he works as a biostatistician and does musical theatre. It says that combination doesn’t make a lot of sense to him either. In a way it makes perfect sense. You do what you have to do, but you make sure that you give time to what you love to do, because sometimes you have to cut loose. I guess that’s how something can last for 107 years.
Things tend to wrap up more neatly in musical theatre than in life. If you love to escape from the everyday humdrum and especially if you love musical theatre go see Footloose while you have a chance. It’s one less day in the mall and at this time of year that’s a great thing.
Footloose runs to December 2