The Muny Cuts Loose with Footloose

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Footloose Muny 101

The 80s anthem, FOOTLOOSE, defined a generation that wanted--nay, needed!--to blow off steam through music and motion. It was a time when we wanted to get physical, to dance in the streets and dance in the sheets, and nothing was going to stop us now.

The classic show became a musical in 1998, and tonight the cast at The Muny delivered the penultimate performance of the show's St. Louis run.

The musical adaptation takes a few liberties with the script, of course, sometimes for time considerations, and sometimes for simplicity of stage direction. Instead of Ren McCormack (MASON REEVES) working at a grain mill, he waits tables at a burger joint. And preacher's daughter Ariel Moore (McKENZIE KURTZ) has her daredevil urges tamed down so that she's screaming at trains instead of in front of them.

But at it's core, the song remains the same: Bomont is a small town that suffered a tragedy when four teenagers were killed on their way back from a dance. The town, led by Reverend Shaw Moore (JEREMY KUSHNIER), responded by codifying an ordinance outlawing dancing in the city limits. And Ren, who has a knack for persistently rubbing people the wrong way and being in the wrong place at the wrong time, decides what Bomont's teens really need is to hold a dance, setting the stage for a battle of the generation gap.

The set design for FOOTLOOSE is some very cleverly done Muny Magic. The rear and side projection screens, combined with the moveable platforms on stage, create some illusory moments where you can almost forget you're watching stage theater. And the costuming was very on point; in fact, my wife pointed out that these were not costumes at all, but that the set dressers had simply raided our closets from when we were in high school.

FOOTLOOSE: The company performs "I'm Free (Heaven Helps the Man)" with high-octane gusto at The Muny. (Photo: The Muny)

Many of the familiar tunes are found here, modified for a Broadway feel but still comfortably familiar and chill-delivering in many instances. Let me state right off the bat that this show belongs, body and soul, to two talented chanteuses. Kurtz physically demands the attention of all eyes in the audience no matter what scene she enters. Vocally, she does the same for all ears, particularly during her stunning performance of "Holding Out For A Hero." She later carries the duet with Reeves when they sing "Almost Paradise."

KHAILAH JOHNSON, who plays the role of Rusty, commands the stage with her leads on "Somebody's Eyes" and "Let's Hear It For the Boy." She also brings a fun and charming sense of humor to the character, as she pursues her crush on Willard (ELI MAYER), a man of few words -- and even fewer moves.

For his part, Mayer adds just the right touch of hick-and-hambone to the role of Willard, Ren's uncoordinated sidekick, and delivers "Mama Says (You Can't Back Down)" with an appropriate level of humor.

Reeves has the acting chops to play a leading role. However, at least in this performance, he doesn't have the vocal strength to be the lead in a musical role. When he delivered the solo intro to "I'm Free (Heaven Helps The Man)," I thought perhaps the dichotomy of what I heard and what I expected was because the Kenny Loggins song was simply too fast-paced and studio-produced to be able to get a decent delivery in a live performance. However, when I heard him later doing his part of "Almost Paradise" with Kurtz, it was plain the vocal strength simply wasn't there, as he lapsed into a near-falsetto to carry the higher octaves of the chorus--almost a soprano instead of a tenor, contrasted against Kurtz's clarion alto.

The overall judgment on FOOTLOOSE, however, is that this is a very high-energy production that's infectious well beyond the stage apron. With the show wrapping it's Muny run July 24, visitors to St. Louis have one last chance to catch the company making music memories and Muny Magic with some of the most iconic songs of the 80s.

4.5 / 5.0