Thursday, August 8, 2019

Footloose Explodes Across the Stage at Broadway Rose

Nick Serrone, Amanda Pred, Cassandra Pangelinan, Eric Asakawa, Lydia 
Fleming, Erik Montague, and Calvin Lieurance

By Tina Arth

In many ways, I missed the eighties: job, spouse, kid, dog, left me culturally limited to Stephen Spielberg, George Lucas, Jim Henson and Mr. Rogers. The original Footloose wasn’t even a blip on my personal radar, and I went into the Broadway Rose production of the musical version with no more than the vague awareness that “7 Degree of Kevin Bacon” had been a thing. Peggy Taphorn’s director’s note informed me that, in her opinion, “…it has a great story! It’s not just a simple story about a ban on dancing and a rebel with a cause…” I’ve got to disagree – from a story standpoint, that’s exactly what it is, in most part aimed with laser focus at the sophistication of a 13-year-old. HOWEVER – that just doesn’t matter. From the moment that Kayla Dixon sang the first notes of “Footloose” it was clear that this show was going to be spectacular, and by the time Eric Asakawa started dancing I was mesmerized by the energy, athleticism, and artistry of the amazing cast.  The credits mention screenplay and stage adaptation, but for this show, more than any other I remember, all credit should go to the folks who wrote the music, the music director and band, Taphorn’s choreography, and a stage full of singing, dancing dynamos.

Condensed version for those of you who share my cluelessness about the show: Ethel McCormack’s husband has walked out, leaving Ethel and teen son Ren without enough money to stay in Chicago – they are forced to move in with Ethel’s sister and brother-in-law in a fictional hick town called Bomont where the sidewalks are rolled up at 6 PM. Worse yet, a tragic accident several years ago prompted the town council to ban all dancing. Ren is truly a fish out of water in Bomont, and his progress toward fitting in isn’t helped when he pays too much attention to Ariel Moore, the minister’s daughter and girlfriend of local bad boy Chuck Cranston. Ren is befriended by terminally shy Willard, who has a weirdly one-way relationship with Rusty – he never talks, she never stops talking. Chuck hits Ariel, Chuck hits Ren, Ren’s plea to the town council to bring back dancing is denied, Ren and Reverend Moore have a moment, dancing ban is lifted, The Big Dance.

Where do I start on this production? I mentioned Kayla Dixon (Rusty) grabbing me with the opening number, but not how the power built as the voices of Cassandra Pangelinan (Urleen) and Amanda Pred (Wendy Jo) kicked in. This trio repeated their magic with “Somebody’s Eyes,” and when Malia Tippets  (Ariel) joins them in “Holding Out For A Hero” the quartet literally stops the show with their singing, dancing dynamism. While Tippets is a superb singer and dancer, her real strength is the authenticity of her performance as a teenage girl torn between the need to rebel and reject her father’s domination and the equally powerful need to capture his attention and approval.

I suspect that few Footloose directors have had the good fortune to land a trained opera singer who also has a background in competitive gymnastics – Eric Asakawa was simply born to play Ren McCormack. He moonwalks, does backflips, even vaults over other performers with flawless form that takes the breath away and moves his dancing off the charts. It’s nothing short of miraculous that he can sing at the same time, and by the end of I Can’t Stand Still he owns the audience.

Chrissy Kelly-Pettit is moving and honest as Ariel’s mother Vi, who unflinchingly tries to defend her daughter from Reverend Moore’s heavy handed parenting, and the trio of Kelly-Pettit, Tippets, and Ali Bell (Ethel McCormack) give the show a whole new dimension with their timely Learning To Be Silent. Bruce Blanchard’s Reverend Moore captures the role’s essential duality – both rigid preacher and loving dad, trying to do the right thing for his family and his flock and setting us up nicely for his final conversion. Calvin Lieurance is appropriately awkward and tongue-tied as the clumsy, shy Willard Hewitt – then steals the limelight with his dazzling footwork in Mama Says.

The band, sometimes invisible in Broadway Rose productions, is completely integrated into the staging. Music Director Mak Kastelic and Conductor Alan D. Lytle are clearly going after the feel of an eighties rock band, with volume to match, but the sound is nicely modulated when the material demands a softer touch. Costume Designer Allison Dawe has done an admirable job of capturing an eighties feel without succumbing to the temptation to parody the worst excesses if the decade’s fashions.

Footloose sold out before opening night, so there’s little chance of scoring tickets for this powerhouse production. However, Broadway Rose has just announced its next season – given the consistent quality of musical theater coming from this amazing company, it’s pretty safe to buy tickets now for anything you might want to see in the next year – don’t wait for the reviews!

Footloose is playing at Broadway Rose’s New Stage, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through Sunday, September 1.

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