“Footloose” was the must-see movie of 1984. It made a tight-jeaned Kevin Bacon a household name and put him so safely in the seven-degrees-of-separation with everyone in Hollywood that a namesake game was created about him. The movie then became a Broadway musical some 15 years later. Last year brought the world a remake film of the same name. And now it is taking to Tacoma Little Theatre’s stage.
This “Footloose” adaptation by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie brings the movie to the stage with some updates and changes, but the guts are still there. Ren, an angst-filled youth, finds himself transplanted from Chicago to the Bible belt of Texas, where dancing is outlawed. This town’s ban on boogie came after a car accident killed four high schoolers after a night of drinking and dancing. Rather than deal with the accident, the town simply banned the teens from holding dances as a way to protect them from the temptations and evils of the outside world. But prom season nears in this tiny town, creating a clash of cultures between rebellious teens all riled up by the new kid in town and their puritanical parents who have well embraced the status quo.
The show, directed by Chris Nardine, has some tight dance numbers and generally solid singing. The main issue opening night was the sound system. It seemed at times the actors were relying too heavily on the microphones hanging from the ceiling. And those mics simply did not deliver as minutes passed by with only mumbles from the stage. The sound system failed further during the key rock ‘n roll numbers. The walls should have rattled with "Footloose," for example, but the iconic number just sort of fell flat. The lack of a rock-and-roll boom from the band then seemed to cause the actors to vocally hold back, creating a spiral of lost “power ballad” moments.
Elise Campello, for example, has been a vocal powerhouse in myriad performances through the years on stages along the South Sound to the point that audience members would have to question the physics of having so much vocal thunder come from such a petite frame. She can pull some solid Aretha Franklin moments from her skinny white girl lungs few others can. Campello can bring “the diva.” But her performance as the temptress daughter of the town preacher in this production did not bring all the wow and the sizzle she could have easily brought to a role. True, she did not need to go full diva for the role. She needed to bring more than what she did.... a Celine Dion, if you will. Campello, at times, seemed to be holding back her inner Franklin in an effort to mute herself as a way to match the energy of her stage mates rather than lead the charge. Whether that was a directorial call, an actor’s choice or just an opening night lull, it seemed an easily addressable issue. But that holds true for the balance of the cast. One more espresso before the curtain rises would put the cast well in the zone rather than being Flatliners – oh wait, wrong Bacon movie.
Kawika Huston suffers the same issues in his Baconic (as in iconic Bacon role) portrayal of Ren. He served up a performance that seems more suited for the silver screen than the stage. It was nuanced and solid but often got lost in a muted microphone. Front row sitters got a much better experience from the show than those in the back row all around.
All in all, however, the show was fun. That’s the bottom line. It could have been better. It also could have been a lot worse, and frankly, I expected worse considering Tacoma Little Theatre’s ongoing money troubles and the lack of an artistic director for the better part of two seasons. Signs of that could be found in the lighting and stage design. Both were simple and direct but far from memorable or innovative. The use of a projection scene to illustrate scene changes was different, but just seemed driven more from the lack of proper sets than artistic vision.
"Footloose" runs at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays through May 20. Although the show is rated for all ages, there are a few coarse words peppered in the script. Tickets are $16.50 to $27. The theater is located at 210 N "I" St. More information is available at www.tacomalittletheatre.com.