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REVIEW: Unexpected Depth in Footloose (Artistry)

Ethan Davenport (Ren McCormack), Angela Steele (Ariel Moore), and Erin Nicole Farsté (Rusty) with the cast of Artistry’s Footloose. Photo by Devon Cox.

The musical Footloose is usually done as a caricature: “Look how narrow-minded and simple those small-town, Bible-thumping folks are, scared of dancing! They’re so backwards, all they really need to do is loosen up.” It was thus a welcome surprise to see that Artistry’s new production of Footloose treats the entrenched opposition in this big city kid-in-a-small-town tale as serious characters with genuine values and relatable moral concerns. Much of this hinges on Paul Coate’s moving performance as the Reverend Shaw Moore, which grounds the work as a whole.

Not that the rest of the cast are slouches or ill-used. Ethan Davenport is a fresh-faced and extremely energetic Ren McCormack, whose incessant twisting, turning, and popping moves scarcely slows in the whole run. Davenport has the dance moves down pat (the choreography is by Heidi Spesard-Noble) and is a compelling lead, especially for such a young actor. Opposite him is Angela Steele as Ariel Moore (the reverend’s daughter, fitting PK stereotypes to a t). Steele is also a charismatic actor with impeccable dance chops, which are put to great use in the many, many mass dance scenes.

The Reverend Moore (not pictured) is righteously indignant when Ren McCormack (Ethan Davenport) entices his daughter Ariel (Angela Steele) to dance. Photo by Devon Cox.

If you’re coming to see Footloose, it’s probably not for the songs (though there are several great pop-rock ballads and such in the score). You’re there for the dancing. That there is in great profusion, and as executed through Benjamin McGovern’s directing and Spesard-Noble’s choreography it’s a lot of fun to watch. (If you’re feeling that Act I ends a little slow, Act II adds some nitro to the mix for a race to the high-octane finish.) The scenic design by Rick Polenek and lighting design by Karin Olson provide strong accents and sense of space; other technical elements do their part, if not being otherwise distinguished.

There are a lot of supporting characters in Footloose, often spread around for the various songs known outside of the musical. “Somebody’s Eyes”, for example, features some of the most compelling choreography and visuals in the first act, as well as some sterling vocal performances by Erin Farsté (Rusty), Emily Scinto (Urleen), and Alyson Enderle (Wendy Jo). Some of the songs like “Mama Says” really do nothing at all to advance the plot, but Reese Britts (Willard) holds the audience throughout the toe-tapping song.

Is Footloose chock-full of giant dance numbers? You betcha! Photo by Devon Cox.

Act II, as it were, is where things get real – when the bravado is peeled back and the audience gets to see what the characters are actually like inside, which is engrossingly raw. Davenport, Steele, and Coate each deliver moving monologues that push the show rise above simple entertainment, and Coate’s performance of “I Confess” is tearjerking. The giant dance-off of the finale is especially joyous after a cathartic tug at the heartstrings.

Authority (Paul Coate, center-right), meet rebellion (Ethan Davenport, center-left). Photo by Devon Cox.

Artistry’s production of Footloose plays through August 18 at the Bloomington Center for the Arts in Bloomington, MN.

Basil Considine

Basil Considine is the Performing Arts Editor and Senior Classical Music and Drama Critic at the Twin Cities Arts Reader. He was previously the Resident Classical Music and Drama Critic at the Twin Cities Daily Planet and remains an occasional contributing writer for The Boston Musical Intelligencer and The Chattanoogan. He holds a PhD in Music and Drama from Boston University, an MTS in Sacred Music from the BU School of Theology, and a BA in Music and Theatre from the University of San Diego.

Basil was named one of Musical America's 30 Professionals of the Year in 2017.
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