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Fireside Theatre brings back lively classic

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

March 28, 2013

 
FORT ATKINSON - In the case of the musical “Footloose,” the stage version by Tom Snow, Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie followed the movie, instead of the other way around. 

In 1984, Kevin Bacon dazzled his fans in the film version with his cool moves, while later in 1998, the show opened on Broadway for a long run and accrued several Tony awards.

The Fireside Dinner Theatre opened its version Feb. 28 with a long run that ends April 14. It is a lively, well-choreographed production that’s sure to put you on the side of dancing as a perfectly legitimate form of entertainment, one even fostered in the Bible.

The story opens with Ren McCormack, a young sophisticated teen, moving from Chicago to Bomont, Texas, and follows with his cultural shock and his power to affect the mores of that small town. The most prominent family in the town is the Rev. Moore, his wife Vi and his rebellious daughter, Ariel. They soon butt heads.

Because of an accident in the town, resulting in the death of four teens many years before Ren’s arrival, strict rules forbidding drinking and dancing were laid down to prevent a recurrence of such a tragedy. Of course, the current teens, including Ren and Ariel, oppose these unreasonable restrictions against dancing and decide to take on the preacher and the town council. This process drives the main plot of the story.

Several songs have survived the musical; namely, “Footloose” and “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” but there are many other satisfying numbers like the romantic “Somebody’s Eyes” and “Almost Paradise,” as well as the poignant “Heaven Help Me,” “Can You Find It in Your Heart” and “Learning to Be Silent.”

Some cast members stood out among a very competent collection of fine vocalists and high-energy dancers. Alexander Hulett as Ren and Kim Sava as Ariel are outstanding. The Rev. Shaw Moore (Victor Hernandez) and his wife Vi (Mary Jane Guymon) also move us in their struggles as a couple and as parents.

In the humor department, Neville Braithwaite adds a unique flavor to the mix as Willard. His rendition of “Mama Says” is precious, and his hookup with Rusty, played by the dynamic Jenna Spitale, provides a striking contrast in personalities. I have to mention Matthew Tiberi as a convincing tough guy.

The very athletic dance numbers are creatively choreographed by Kate Swan and constitute much of the enjoyment of the show, and the musical direction by Mary Ehlinger provides us with many spirited solos and ensemble numbers. The overall direction was provided by the ubiquitous Ed Flesch, whose destiny seems to be success.

Although I hadn’t seen this musical for years, I have enjoyed it immensely both times I’ve seen it. In the midst of the heaviness of repressed anger and sadness, it has a redemptive quality about it and enough humor to alleviate some of its more somber moments.

“Footloose” continues through April 14 at the Fireside Dinner Theatre, 1131 Janesville Ave., Fort Atkinson. For tickets, call 800-477-9505 or visit www.firesidetheatre.com.