With its frowning Oral Roberts elders and its Annette-and-Frankie teenagers, Footloose feels dated. As compared to 1984, when Dean Pitchford first scripted the movie (before cashing in on it as a Broadway musical in 1998), there's just a bit more porn available these days. Today, trying to forbid dancing sounds simply quaint.
But the datedness allows for some distancing, too. Parents are still trying to protect their kids -- it's just that the particular forms have changed. Now they want to protect them from OTC drugs, from the consequences of "just hooking up," from creeps who stalk them with night-vision goggles. With its setting in Anytown, USA, its finger-wagging adults, its kids who just wanna dance, Footloose has the appeal of a fairy tale. It isn't profound or nuanced, but it wants to dance its way into your heart.
With some missteps, this CdA Summer Theatre production puts on a lot of good moves. The choreography is by Ross Cornell, who also plays the lead role of Ren, the rebel with a pro-dancing cause. He favors punch-down, punch-left unison gestures for the chorus, with frequent repetitions of a sequence with one hand behind a cocked head, the other hand behind a raised and splayed knee, pushing it forward. Dancing solo, he's all flaring feet and jutting elbows, doing flips and 360s and karate kicks. Yet while his dance designs were often engaging, there was a kind of opening-night tentativeness in the opening and closing versions of the title song's dance fiesta.
As the preacher's daughter who just wants to get out of town, Cara Cooley sure can shake it: In "Holding Out for a Hero," she struts, looks up, rubs her hands over her body, bends impossibly far back, does a little self-hug, then a kick and a pirouette ... my goodness, Grandma, how the Devil is at work in rock 'n' roll. Both principals, however, dance better than they sing.
Director Michael Wasileski achieves a nice segue from the kids just wanting to cut footloose and the older folks calmly imploring the Lord in a hymn that one day all our trials might cease. There's another nice transition late in the show when the preacher wonders, "How do I let the world in?" ... and a lot of churchgoers file in. Best of all was "Somebody's Eyes," a number lamenting the lack of privacy among small-town gossips. Wasileski distributes umbrellas to all the town folk and deploys a kind of Greek chorus -- three local girls played by Haley Ostrander, Karyn McNay and Kendall Hartse -- as commentary on the civic claustrophobia.
The comic sidekicks are a sight gag of a couple: As Willard, Troy Wageman has to be a foot and half taller than Ostrander as Rusty -- the big lunk trying to cuddle up with Tinkerbelle. Wageman overdoes the aw-shucks routine at first, but when Ostrander sings about him in "Let's Hear It for the Boy," she isn't just making starry-eyed excuses: As she sings about how her boyfriend "may be no Romeo," we witness Wageman's comedic-clumsy attempts to learn a few simple dance steps. Willard is no Casanova, but the audience was rooting for Wageman, a linebacker-size guy who really can sing and dance.
As the preacher with a hidden motive for putting a stop to all dancing in his little town, Todd Hermanson is playing another religious-minded fellow. He captures the moral fervor of the tortured, repressed soul of Rev. Shaw better than the more flamboyant, put-on piety of Sky Masterson in CdA's last show, Guys and Dolls. With his hands folded neatly in front of him and his shoulders upright, Hermanson catches Shaw's prudery. For the preacher's confessional songs, "Heaven Help Me" and "I Confess," Hermanson adopts a more stooped posture, with tentative steps and the familiar plaintive, husky tone to his voice.
Singing the role of the preacher's wife, Tamara Schupman shows how professional projection and crisp diction of a trained voice can stand out. In particular, she brings poignant self-restraint to "Learning To Be Silent," her duet with Callie McKinney Cabe -- two mothers who have learned that with fathers and children, some topics should just never be discussed. In "Can You Find It in Your Heart?" the preacher's wife is ironically the one who has to teach the preacher about forgiveness and empathy. Schupman may have fractured her skull in a recent auto accident, but it did nothing to fracture her talent.
For the finale, Wasileski tries to crank up the excitement with swirling lights and streamers. The performances don't generate quite that much heat, but they aren't wasted effort, either. Footloose wants to teach familiar lessons through dance; the lessons are still worth learning, and the dances are still worth watching.