Nicola Foley reviews Cambridge Arts Theatre’s latest musical hit
Last night (4 April) saw Footloose The Musical hit the Arts Theatre, in all its 80s glory, for the start of a six-night run in Cambridge. Some thirty-two years after the release of the original film, we find ourselves transported back to the sleepy town of Bomont, a Bible Belt backwater where dancing and rock music have been banned.
Enter city boy Ren, played by the exuberant Luke Baker, who’s been forced to leave his beloved Chicago and live with his aunt and uncle after his parents split up. Before too long he’s causing a stir with his rebellious dance moves and he’s caught the eye of the Reverend’s daughter, Ariel – much to the annoyance of her dropout boyfriend…
The show bursts into action with a dazzlingly energetic rendition of the title track, which is when you’re introduced to one of the most impressive feats of this whole production: every instrument in every song is being played live by the actors on stage. The cast is small and seriously hard working, flitting between high octane dance routines, playing numerous instruments each, singing their hearts out and, of course acting. At one point someone’s even zipping around on roller skates playing a saxophone.
This is an ambitious plan – for even the most multi-talented of performers – and one which a lesser cast might fail to carry, but this lot manage it throughout, seemingly never losing any of their energy. Also impressive are the creative solutions found for some of the staging challenges presented by iconic moments in the film – especially the tractor game of ‘chicken’.
Really though, it’s all about the tunes, and if 80s music is your bag you’re in for a huge treat, with classics like Holding Out for a Hero and Let’s Hear it for the Boy. But for all the big numbers with their bells and whistles, one of my personal favourites was the beautifully sung Learning to be Silent, with its heavenly harmonies from Vi (Maureen Nolan), Arial (Hannah Price) and Ethel (Nicky Swift).
The show also features a rather tanned, rather buffed up Gareth Gates, in the role of dungaree-wearing mama’s boy Willard. You probably remember Gates as the spiky haired teenager with a voice of an angel battling a severe stammer in the inaugural series of Pop Idol way back in 2001-2002 (he famously lost out to Will Young). Fourteen years on he’s lost none of his ability to charm a crowd, and the scenes of him sweetly singing Mama Says (You Can’t Back Down), and being taught to dance by Ren get some of the biggest cheers of the whole show.
Lead girl Hannah Price deserves a special mention too for her flawless performance, but the whole cast impresses, especially Joanna Sawyer in the role of the fiery Rusty.
If you loved the film, you’ll adore seeing the story brought to life in such a colourful, creative way, but Footloose virgins will also find plenty to love in this show. Catch it until 9 April, tickets are £18-38.