Review and pics: Footloose, New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

As someone who'd never seen Kevin Bacon cut loose in the 1984 movie, I was initially sceptical of the stage adaptation of Footloose.

Review and pics: Footloose, New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

Ren McCormack shows off his dancing skills

It sounded just about as cheesy as cheese gets - a young man who moves to a new town where dancing is illegal. I wasn't sure if I could buy into it. But then the music started, and I realised that I was daft to have underestimated it. It's a feel-good show with enough complexity to keep the audience hanging on every word throughout.

By the end of the show at the New Alex last night, I was dancing in the aisle, my cheeks still damp with tears from the emotional roller coaster that was the second half.
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Chuck Cranston dances with Ariel Moore
Luke Baker played the lead role brilliantly, juggling the cockiness of Ren McCormack with his delicate insecurities without dropping the ball. His dance skills were impeccable and his voice strong and unwavering.

Ren's arrived in the little town of Bomont, West Virginia from Chicago following the breakdown of his family. His father has left his mother Ethel, played by Nicky Swift, and money troubles have dictated that they need to move in with Ethel's brother to make ends meet.
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Chuck Cranston
It's here that he meets his new school friends, learns the tragic reasons behind the dance ban and begins to make moves to have it overturned.

Seeing Footloose on stage is not just about watching singers, dancers and actors perform. Instead of the musicians being hidden in the orchestra pit, all of the instruments are played live on stage by the actors. This is where many of them really shone, including in particular Nicky Swift who can make a saxophone tell a sad story with apparent ease.
How many skills can one cast have?! Well, many, as we learnt. Double bass, clarinets, pianos, trumpets and guitars were played by the dancing team, and they were note perfect throughout.

In Bomont, Ren doesn't fit in well. Comic relief is delivered by his first real friend in town, mother-lovin' Willard. Gareth Gates had been due to play the role but due to illness, it was young actor Luke Thornton who took the reins. He did a great job, and the moment when he finally learnt to dance pulled the first cheer of joy from the packed crowd. A character can be well written, but it takes a skilled actor to make us believe in them. It was a triumphant performance from Luke.
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Ariel Moore and Ren McCormack have a heart to heart
It was a pleasure to see Maureen Nolan treading the boards in Birmingham too, playing the role of preacher's wife Vi. It was Maureen that added the true emotion to the story, and the heartbreak carried by Vi over the loss of her child was portrayed delicately by the Nolan Sister. Her voice is still beautiful, and she added true warmth to proceedings. We love a Nolan!
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Ren McCormack shows off his dancing skills
The show's climax included a dancing mega mix of the songs of the play, including Holding Out for a Hero, Let's Hear it for the Boy and, of course, the title track. 

The audience was encouraged to get up and cut loose too, and we got to see Reverend Moore, played by Nigel Lister, loosen up and wail on his guitar for the whooping crowd.
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The cast played all instruments live on stage
A great end to a wonderful night at a beautiful theatre. Who could ask for more?

Footloose runs at the New Alex Theatre until Saturday. For tickets www.atgtickets.com or call 0844 871 3011 

By Kirsty Bosley
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