young cast presents a mature ‘footloose’
By Katherine Beeson
Published Aug. 6, 2019
In 1984 the movie “Footloose” became an instant hit -- in 1998 the live musical opened on Broadway and was nominated for four Tony awards -- and now, in 2019, Sudbrink Academy brings this show to the stage and delivers nothing less than a phenomenal production!
The storyline basically follows the movie’s plot – a Chicago teen (Ren) and his mother have to move in with relatives in the small country town of Bomont. Dancing has been banned there since a terrible car accident killed four students – including the minister’s son – as they were returning from a dance. Ariel, the minister’s daughter, has a controlling, abusive boyfriend but is quickly drawn to Ren and soon all the students are behind Ren’s drive to appeal to the minister and bring dancing back.
Dancing is a great place to start this review and the only word that best describes it is WOW!!!! When sophisticated choreography is combined with talented dancers the results are musical numbers that simply pop! Kudos to Emilie Thomas and Jes Sudbrink. The dance corps and lift corps did an amazing job.
When younger acting groups tackle musicals with substantial dialogue, it is sometimes tough to delve into the characters while working on songs and movement. This cast has the “acting chops” required to deliver genuine performances.
Niko Dulin completely embodies the energy and impatience of Ren (“I never walk when I can run.”) Dulin is a triple threat – singing, dancing and acting. Remember his name as you will be seeing him on stage again and again. Nolan Van Haren as Willard is a delight as the uh-shucks country boy who befriends Ren and confesses his deepest fear – he can’t dance.
Another standout is Kailee Doherty as Vi, the minister’s wife. The stage version gives this character much more depth and a number of great songs. Her voice is beautiful. One of my favorite numbers is “Learning to be Silent” sung by Vi, her daughter Ariel (Grace Hubler) and Ren’s mother Ethel (Kaylyn Wagner.) This song showcases the secondary plot in the show – the fact that women in Bomont are expected to stay quiet and let the men make most of life’s decisions. It is hauntingly beautiful and these young women do a wonderful job conveying this frustration.
It is not easy for young actors to portray older characters but except for the odd wig and too much energy using a walker, they do a fine job. Aidan Thiele as Reverend Shaw Moore has the gravitas required to deliver a strong performance (even if his socks did not match – a stage tradition, perhaps?) Thiele and Hubler have a great father-daughter dynamic and their scenes are powerful.
As a director myself, I notice a lot of things. The way scenes were changed – almost overlapping what was still going on onstage -- provides very smooth transitions and eliminates any awkward pauses in the show. Congrats to the backstage talent – but I would have put you in costumes too! Speaking of costumes, I loved the 1980s clothing. It can become so easy for shows set in another era to become “costume caricatures” – in this case resorting to massive shoulder pads, spandex, super-sized sweaters, leg warmers – you get the idea. This show looked REAL, with the flowered dresses, subtle off-the-shoulder sweaters, big hair and other genuine looks of the decade. Darcy Devens and Mary O’Connell did a fantastic job!
Anne Van Deusen (musical director) and Jacob Sudbrink (musical director and conductor) put together a very talented orchestra that added much to the show. Director Jes Sudbrink deserves applause for putting this wonderful musical together.
The only part of this show I did not understand was the use of the smoke machine during the ENTIRE show. At first, I thought it was to convey the dusty roads of Bomont as opposed to the streets of Chicago, but the fact that it continued until the end of the show just did not make sense.
“Footloose” will be presented at 7:30 pm August 8, 9 and 10 at Pewaukee High School’s Auditorium. Visit sudbrinkacademy.com for full details. t all started when…