A Word In Edgewise: “Footloose” – Chanhassen’s Music for the Soles
It’s always a treat to spend an evening at Chanhassen Dinner Theaters, especially during this still gloomy time of year–doesn’t 2022 know Spring has sprung?–and the world itself is far from cheerful. Come, lift for your spirits here with the cheerful clamor of Footloose.
From big-city Chicago to country Bomont, come divorced mom Ethel McCormick (Ann Michaels) and teen son Ren (Alan Bach/Dylan Rugh). Chicago chafes at small-town Bomont’s restrictions, enforced upon all by the Rev. Shaw Moore. There is, Ren learns to his chagrin, little joy and no dancing permitted. No exceptions. None.
The audience knows where this will lead. But there are undercurrents. Ren’s dad deserted the family, leaving anger and an open psychic wound, while the good Reverend Moore has never recovered from the twenty-year-old town tragedy when four youngsters (Partying? Drinking? Dancing?) drove off a bridge to their deaths; among them, his only son, Bobby.
Moore had a son, but Bobby had a sister, Ariel, now a wild child seeking Dad’s attention. She and Ren fall in love. (This plot is not quantum physics, after all, but simple addition, subtraction and, perhaps eventually, multiplication.) Moore (played by Michael Gruber) also has a wife, and Ariel a mother. Vi, wise, warm, solid (Lynnea Doubletree) loves her husband, but understands her daughter. She, too, she reminds the reverend, lost a son. “Our son.”
Ren has to stand up to the local high school males, with the usual tribal rites sung and danced to a fare-thee-well. Chanhassen’s never-failing props department can conjure a motorcycle gang or rallying cars by simply dimming the lights revealing only headlights and two-by-fours sleekly maneuvered to chilling verisimilitude. The fellows range from dim cowboy Willard Hewett (Matthew Hall) to the feral Chuck Cranston (Ben Bakken), the gals include Ariel’s wise-cracking friend Rusty (Shinah Hey).
Ren has his hands full but his voice and feet keep pace with the likes of “The Girl Gets Around,” “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” “Heaven Help Me,” performed throughout the town– church, junk yard, under that railroad bridge as Ren and Aril elevate to “Almost Paradise.” Of course, it’s all bounded by “Footloose,” from opening number to finale.
The show embraces themes of loss, love, and fears, but clothed in a dynamic, youthful energy that eventually heals old wounds and softens the hearts of rigid adults.
While the narrative sometimes seems stereotyped, stock character-ish, so were the plots of Plautus, and many tropes of the Bard himself. Buoyed aloft on the show’s movement and flash, its song and chorus spectacles, we easily suspend niggling disbeliefs when the whole town gathers and Ren pleads his terpsichorean cause.
There’s no Bomont Billy Joe McAllister moment, just a breakthrough to normalcy and celebratory joy at the thawing of a frozen populace. This unfettering has great appeal after our own long months prohibition-bound by Covid; watching the good reverend and his smiling wife cavort in the final dance presages happier days for Bomont–and for us all.
Directed by Michael Brindisi, Footloose is based on Dean Pitchford’s original 1984 screenplay; music by Tom Snow and lyrics by Dean Pitchford. Additional music by Eric Carmen, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins, and Jim Steinman.
Chanhassen will be happy to seat you, treat you, entertain you royally now through September 24. Polish up your dancing shoes and come on out!