AMANA — Beautiful music makes me cry. Wrenching drama makes me cry. I wasn’t prepared to have “Footloose” make me cry.
But when the Rev. Shaw Moore bares his soul to his congregation before the musical’s final scene, it’s impossible to choke back some tears.
This musical theater piece, based on the 1984 jukebox movie that made Kevin Bacon a star, is so much more than a nostalgic glide in the hands of director Sean McCall and his fleet-footed cast. The show opened to a well-deserved standing ovation Thursday afternoon (9/7) and continues through Oct. 1.
It’s the story of a culture clash when Chicago city boy Ren McCormack (Seth Hunter) moves to a small Midwestern town where dancing is illegal. It’s been that way for five years, after four teens were killed when their car plunged off a bridge en route home from a dance.
Shrouded in grief over the death of his son, the Rev. Moore (Ross Wheeler) has been preaching against dancing, rock music, booze, drugs, rebellion — and anything else he can think of — in an effort to keep the rest of the town’s teens safe. Naturally, forbidden fruit is just too tempting, especially for his headstrong daughter, Ariel (Katie Colletta), who sneaks out every chance she gets to hook up with delinquent dropout Chuck Cranston (Jim Vogt).
Drama and conflict are woven through the bouncy beats of such Top 40 hits as “Footloose,” “Holding Out for a Hero,” “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” and “Almost Paradise,” a duet made even lovelier by beautiful harmonies from Ren and Ariel.
And that dance. So much dance. Colletta and her husband, Keegan Christopher, have choreographed the show with so much vigor and visual delights that I didn’t even miss Bacon’s signature moves. The iconic title song opens and closes the show, and agile, athletic moves set the tone for the entire production, before the finale wraps it up with a big, glittery banana-clip bow.
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Actually, an especially smart move by the design team was to just give slight nods to the ’80s, instead of having the scenery and costumes dripping in what could be distracting kitsch. A couple of scrunchies holding side ponytails is sufficient to establish the era, until cutting loose with full-out retro prom attire and a shimmering rain curtain at the end.
Dressing the teens in timeless jeans, T-shirts, shorts and cowboy boots fortifies the show’s universal themes of teen angst, bullying, grief and healing.
The characterizations play against type, too, or at least infuse them with more heft and heart. Hunter gives Ren an entirely different spin, making him a cheeky charmer. His Ren masks his angst and frustration until all is revealed in a deep and honest conversation with the minister, which paves the way to help the town work its way back to joy.
All of the lead actors are a joy to behold, and Nikki Savitt is a hoot whenever she steps out of the background and into the spotlight with some much-needed comic relief. A special nod goes to actor/choreographer Christopher, who elevates Willard from dullard with two left feet to the shy guy the audience roots for as he takes a shine to the equally shy Rusty (Maggie Saunders).
It’s the kind of show that makes you want to get up and dance like a kid again, and if you go on a Saturday night, you can kick off your Sunday shoes and follow the actors into the courtyard for a dance party, at no extra charge.
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IF YOU GO
l What: “Footloose”
l Where: Old Creamery Theatre, 39 38th Ave., Amana
l When: To Oct. 1; 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday
l Tickets: $31 adults, $19.50 students, Old Creamery Box Office, (319) 622-6262 or Oldcreamery.com
l Rated: PG
l Extra: Saturday Night Dance Parties, following the performances Sept. 9, 16, 23, 30; follow the actors into the courtyard, where the bar is open and music is playing; free admission