By Elissa Churchill
As I boarded the X1 bus on my way to the ARC Stockton Arts Centre, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Infinity Musical Theatre’s ‘Footloose’. The show promises to be a high-octane, toe-tapping rock musical and I did have my doubts as to whether the company would be able to replicate the flair and vivacity of the rock ‘n’ roll era. However, by the time I was heading home on the aforementioned X1, I can proudly say that I had a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
The story of ‘Footloose’ is relatively straightforward: Ren McCormack, a city boy from Chicago arrives in the small town of Bomont, a town where dancing is prohibited. Shaking the town to its foundations, Ren brings dance back to a town that is still haunted by the echoes of a past tragedy. Harvey Oppermans, in the role of Ren, is a very capable leading man, charming and with a fine voice. Tanya Burton, as reverend’s daughter Ariel, displayed a very pretty and engaging singing voice, but occasionally lacked a sense of purpose in her movement and speech.
However, the show’s real strength relied on the characterisation of the other members of the town. Phil Hindle should be commended for his sympathetic and mature portrayal of Reverend Shaw, showing a man who is desperately trying to do what is right. Helen Moore (double-cast in the role with Sarah Barton, who incidentally should be applauded for some excellent roller-skating in her other role as Betty Blast) and Chloe Taylor both gave notable performances as mothers torn between their love for their children and their duty to the society of Bomont. Their understated and subtle performance of ‘Learning To Be Silent’ was simply beautiful.
The younger characters of the cast also put in memorable performances, with Christie Chan, Tanya Rose and Faye Phillips (double-cast with Lucy Pollock) made a feisty trio as Rusty, Wendy Jo and Urleen. Chan in particular left an imprint through a combination of natural likeability and a stunning vocal performance as Rusty. Their performance of ‘Holding Out For a Hero’ was girl-power at its best, and the addition of a few scantily-clad gentlemen into the mix was a very good idea from first-time director Lizzie Williams.
Yet there were two other performances that are worthy of a special mention. Alex Callaghan’s dim-witted cowboy Willard was an audience favourite, winning them over with his loveable demeanour and excellent sense of comic timing. He then furthered this appreciation by demonstrating a surprisingly strong singing voice, showcased in the number, ‘Mama Says’, a personal highlight of mine. Another definite highlight was Tsemaye Bob-Egbe’s highly energetic rendition of ‘Proud Mary’, creating an incredibly dynamic start to Act 2 that I believe created an energy that carried the rest of the show.
The show itself was a joy to listen to, thanks to the impeccable musical direction of Luke Robbins-Ross and his band, which brought old classics such as ‘Let’s Hear It For The Boy’ to life. My only criticisms would be that occasionally, the company lacked energy and polish, most predominantly in the choreography, in which they could have afforded to really ‘cut loose’ a bit more, and which was at times uninventive. There were a few moments of questionable blocking, and the lighting perhaps did not always light the dancers as much as I would have liked, but these are little nit-picking criticisms that in no way detracted from the audience’s enjoyment of the show.
Overall, and by the audience’s reaction, it was clear that a thoroughly good night was had by all. The cast succeeded in creating an uplifting performance that I’m sure had many wanting to dance in the aisles. I now eagerly await to see what Infinity Musical Theatre produces next, and would encourage anyone to make that journey on the X1 to Stockton. I, for one, felt it was most definitely worth it.