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Theater Review: Footloose – The Musical

“Footloose, The Musical” (L-R) Kelsey Lee Smith, Sammy Linkowski. Photo by Ashley Erikson.

Dancing hasn’t been banned in Burbank quite yet, but in 2023 the fate of the historic Colony Theatre and its legacy of performance, music, and entertainment was under very real threat. Thanks to the devotion of The Colony’s staff and team, and a number of generous partners and patrons, The Colony enters 2024 with renewed vivacity, a renewed lobby, and most importantly, a renewed lease. In celebration of this formidable accomplishment of community, The Colony Theatre kicks off the New Year with Footloose: The Musical.

Indeed, The Colony Theatre paints itself Ren McCormack and Ariel Moore– rebels fighting for the regenerative and communal power of the arts. Considering that this past February marks the 40th anniversary of the iconic 80s film of the same name, The Colony has seized a relatively perfect opportunity to put up the show.

For anyone unaware of the cultural phenomenon, Footloose: The Musical follows Ren McCormack, a teenage Chicago hotshot who finds himself consistently on the wrong side of the law after moving to Bomont, a small town where music (the fun kind) and dancing have been banned. After developing feelings for the stern reverend’s rebellious daughter Ariel, Ren decides to heal the townsfolk by throwing a local dance. Directed by Barry Pearl and Michelle Elkin, the show runs just under three hours, including one 15-minute intermission. The show’s numbers are brought to life by musical director Ron Barnett with choreography by Michelle Elkin.

(L-R) Brady Fritz, Lisa Dyson. Ashley Erikson.

The last time I watched a production of Footloose was over a decade ago, and while sitting in the theater Saturday night, I couldn’t help but think that this 80s classic hasn’t aged quite as well as other favorites. The overt misogyny, prominent yet only partially addressed themes of domestic violence, and the “small town America where everyone is able to work it out and be friends” narrative all date the musical significantly. Though I certainly believe there is room for this campy ode to the 80s in today’s musical landscape, the comedy, melodrama, and nostalgia of the piece must take center stage.

The Colony’s production of Footloose: The Musical is faithful to the original, and this hinders the show when performed for a modern audience. Vocally, the cast was strong across the board (Robin De Lano, Kelsey Lee Smith, and Casey Anne Apregan all busted out some especially impressive notes), and I found the energetic dance ensemble particularly compelling. Still, for a show about the love of dance and the need for the freedom of self-expression, the show stagnated in stand-and-deliver solos, long scene transitions, and emotional arcs that never quite crescendoed.

The large musical numbers are the beating heart of Footloose: The Musical. “Let’s Hear it For the Boy,” is the best scene of the show as Rusty (Casey Anne Apregan) and Willard (James Beardsley) get the whole audience to root for their haphazard love story. They are supported by a fully engaged ensemble and spirited, campy choreography by Michelle Elkin. The “Footloose Finale” is also a hit–-fully celebratory with high energy and liveliness that I wish was as present in the opening version of the song. “Mama Says,” and “Dancing Is Not a Crime” are also highlights.

Still, some of the most iconic and fun numbers were limited by the production’s faithful interpretation. “Holding Out for a Hero,” arguably the most enduring song from the musical, felt surprisingly sad as Ariel, Rusty, Urleen, and Wendy Jo lamented their poor dating luck in full wistful earnest mode. Of course, the song is not the most modern sentiment, but the iconic power-ballad is just that–a POWER ballad. While the ladies’ number did have some energetic choreography, I would have loved to see the production lean more into the camp of it all–complete with doofy He-Man “heroes” and corny fantasies of damsels in distress.

(L-R) Coby Rogers, Sammy Linkowski, Noah Heie. Photo by Ashley Erikson.

Similarly, “The Girl Gets Around,” which is only the third song in the musical, would perhaps feel more palatable if Ariel played an active part in the goofy sexuality of the number, rather than standing offstage and watching a group of boys essentially slut-shame her. Again, the outdated song could be substantially modernized with staging that implies Ariel is a willing and active participant in the raunchy jokes of her so-called “friends” rather than an eye-rolling and rigid victim.

The action of the musical is staged within the two-story framework of an old barn. Reminiscent of a middle-America take on the Hamilton set, the open, multi-level design lends itself to the dynamic staging of multiple locations while remaining spacious enough to accommodate the 20-person cast. The extra flats, depicting the Moore’s family home, for example, were unnecessary, and ultimately slowed the scene transitions when the same effect could have been achieved through furniture and performance alone. Similarly, I found the projections distracting, especially when they did not line up with the projection screens. Stock images of pots and pans, a basketball court, or the words “home sweet home,” felt overly literal and obvious when performance and staging already accomplished the desired effect.

(Front L-R) Robin De Lano, Larry Cedar, Kelsey Lee Smith
(Bridge L-R) Ceron Jones, Karen Macarah, Lisa Dyson and Christopher Robert Smith. Photo by Ashley Erikson.

This is ultimately a character-driven production, and I enjoyed watching these nostalgic roles come to life on stage. James Beardsley was stand-out with a deeply loveable and bumbling Willard Hewitt. The dance ensemble deserves another shout out, and in particular I found myself mesmerized by Lauren Barette, Mary Kate Chapman, Almand Martin Jr.

While Footloose: The Musical may not attain the same “classic” status as other Broadway hits from the 90s, it is nostalgic, catchy, and uplifting. After a tumultuous year, The Colony Theatre has made a formidable comeback, and I look forward to their upcoming work as the group settles back into their rightful space in the heart of Burbank.

Footloose: The Musical runs March 2nd-17th at The Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank, CA. Shows are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 2:00 pm, and Sundays at 3:00 pm. Tickets start at $45 and can be purchased here.

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Sika Lonner
Sika Lonner
Sika Lonner is a Los Angeles based actress and writer. Her training includes Loyola Marymount University (B.A.), Academy of Dramatic Art - University of Zagreb, and Michael Tschechow Studio Berlin.

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