Wednesday, December 6

Footloose – Manchester Opera House

Hooray theatre land is beginning to get back to some normality after being hit hard by the pandemic, for the first time there was no need for Covid passes or compulsory wearing of masks. For that alone there was a heightened sense of excitement, and it was clear theatre goers are feeling more confident to mix as the Opera House in Manchester was packed to the rafters with barely one seat empty.

Footloose the musical is the brainchild of Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobby with Music from Tom Snow it’s based on the 1984 film which starred Kevin Bacon as city boy Ren McCormack (played by Joshua Hawkins), who arrives with his mother Ethel (Geri Allen) in Beaumont from Chicago in a rebellious mood after learning of the town’s dancing ban.

The ban came following an incident five years prior after a car crashed with four local teenagers returning from a night of dancing and drinking leading to their untimely deaths, one member of the tragedy being the minister and towns council’s son.

Photo: Mark Senior

Ren is forced to lodge with his uncle after his city-dwelling parents split up – and he soon has his eye on Ariel Moore (Lucy Munden), daughter of the same church minister and local councillor, Reverend Shaw Moore, who is played superbly by Darren Day.

Footloose is a high energy show filled with music from the 80’s, with classics such as “Lets Hear It for the Boy”, “Holding out for a Hero” and “Footloose”. The show has everything you would ask for in a cheesy light-weight musical, with its teen love story, tragedy, rebellion and happy endings.

The creative and production team have done a sterling job in creating the set, props and costumes which transport you back in time with their disco outfits, cowboy boots, leg warmers and roller skates all authentic to the 1980’s. I could not fault the choreography or the musical direction which had members of the cast playing musical instruments such as saxophones and guitars on stage which was extremely impressive as they combined this with singing and dancing. There were a few sound issues on this gala night and the cast had strong enough voices to cover the microphone delays.

Like many touring productions there are the crowd pullers the ones that get bums on seats from their popularity in the celebrity world and this time was no difference with Jake Quickenden (Willard Hewitt) a singer, footballer and reality television personality known for his appearances in ‘X Factor’, ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’ and ‘Dancing on Ice’. The second big name is Darren Day (Rev. Shaw Moore) an actual teenager of the 80’s known for his numerous West End Theatre roles, films, reality and TV series appearances. Having big names does not always mean the best stage performers, however these two headliners stole the show with their pitch perfect voices and phenomenal stage presence. Quickenden added humour, sexiness and a vulnerability to the role and Day added polished professionalism with his confidence and stunning vocals throughout.

Photo: Mark Senior

Casting Director Debbie O’Brien has complied a great casting for the show with the both the main characters and ensemble, with many members of the cast playing multiple roles it makes the small cast feel much larger than it is. There is palpable chemistry in the pairings of Hawkins and Munden making their coupling plausible, the pairing of Willard played by Quickenden and Rusty (Oonagh Cox) injected humour with their quirky love interest scenes and they had the audience whooping for joy with their renditions of ‘Mama Says’ and ‘Lets Hear for the Boy’ as they displayed their affections for each other.

The whole production team and cast provides a wholesome evening of entertainment and the teens of the 1980s clearly will love footloose and its music, but I do wonder if today’s youth might be a bit disinterested with the unrealistic plot, dated characters and outdated music – but when all said and done Footloose still provides the audience with escapism and the feel good factor we all seek in this challenging world we live in in 2022.

Well done to all involved, the show runs until Saturday 5th March 2022 at the Manchester Opera House, so grab your tickets and step back in time to the fabulous 1980’s pop culture.

Reviewer: Katie Leicester

Reviewed: 2nd March 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★