By Barry Reszel
This fair megalopolis’ musical theatre patrons feeling that warm breeze emanating from Lincolnshire might be fooled into believing spring is here to stay—perhaps with summer quickly on its heels.
All can hope.
But more likely, that felt heat is coming from Marriott Theatre’s eight-times-a-week torch passing, scheduled to go on through early June. The company’s highly energetic production of Footloose features a sea of Chicagoland veteran performers in parental roles, graciously ushering in a new era of professional youngsters who just gotta cut loose.
Making way for this next generation may be most clearly exemplified by the real-life mother-daughter tandem of Footloose female lead Lucy Godinez (Ariel) and Nancy Voigts (Lulu Warnicker). But while others might not claim a shared bloodline, there’s no shortage of Chicagoland stage royalty happy to be surrogate parents (a-hem, older siblings) to a group of twentysomethings who sing and dance the heck out the upbeat, Kenny Loggins title-tracked songbook. Most notable is Heidi Kettenring (Ren’s mother, Ethel), celebrating her 20th show at Marriott, though the first in far too long—welcome home. Add to that list Jim Stanek (Rev. Moore), Johanna McKenzie Miller (Vi), Wydetta Carter, James Rank, Meghan Murphy, Shea Coffman and more.
Understanding the sheer collection of talent and experience in this group assembled by Director Gary Griffin brings out the dad in this reviewer—hoping beyond hope that the cast’s 20ish fabulous young people are taking full advantage of the nightly master classes they’re being offered and the plethora of stage stories available to be shared with generation next.
Footloose is the 1998 musical based on Dean Pitchford‘s 1984 film, adapted for the stage by Pitchford and Walter Bobbie with music by Tom Snow, lyrics by Pitchford and additional music by Eric Carmen, Sammy Hagar, Jim Steinman and Loggins. Holding close to the movie plotline, inspired by real-life events in Elmore City, Oklahoma, high school senior Ren and mother Ethel move from Chicago to the small town of Bomont to live with Ethel’s sister and brother-in-law (Lulu and Wes) after Ren’s father leaves the family. Bomont proves to be a buttoned-up, restrictively conservative town that never properly mourned the drug- and alcohol-influenced auto accident deaths of four teenagers, five years prior. Ren’s involvement with the preacher’s daughter, Ariel, whose brother was one of those killed and whose father rules the town from both the pulpit and town council, moves the story toward its somewhat predictable ending when the Bomont High School’s senior class seeks to lift the town’s restriction on dancing. A full plot summary may be read here.
Excellent vocals and a fabulous dancing ensemble executing William Carlos Angulo’s exciting choreography are the overall takeaways from Marriott’s current production. But there are certainly numerous highlights.
The song “Somebody’s Eyes” progresses the plot through a series of vignettes in an exquisitely lit (kudos to Jesse Klug) first act sequence. So, too, the quickly-timed second act mother/son scene between Kettenring and the terrific Aidan Wharton playing Ren illuminates the talents of these two professional actors. And Stanek gives a wonderfully stoic yet sympathetic portrayal as Rev. Moore. For the vocals, Wharton and Godinez’s gorgeous act two duet, “Almost Paradise,” is just that; McKenzie Miller’s ballad, “Can You Find It in Your Heart,” is truly lovely; Ben Barker‘s (comic foil Willard) lead on “Mama Says,” is such good fun; and Monica Ramirez as Ariel’s friend Rusty brings the house down with her magnificent rendition of the pop hit, “Let’s Hear It for the Boy.”
As noted above, ensemble dancing is a clear production highlight. That said, the dance standout is UJ Mangune. There’s a reason Williams chose this talent as this cast’s dance captain; Mangune’s mesmerizing moves are simply jaw-dropping.
All of this translates extraordinarily well to Marriott’s in-the-round setting. Ryan T. Nelson‘s musical direction and Patti Garwood‘s conducting of the eight-musician ensemble are great. The set is even more minimalist than usual in this venue (Footloose and fancy free) , with a couple video boards and a mostly unadorned turntable stage; but that leaves plenty of space for the large ensemble to hoof it.
The single significant nit is this production’s uninspired costuming and hair/wig work that neither goes full-80s, when the story is set, or all-contemporary. And while a preacher’s wife should sport a modest wardrobe, the same skirt/sweater on Vi, a featured character, for the entire show when the telling takes place over a period of (at least) months simply doesn’t cut it for a theatre as professional as Marriott.
That said, nothing takes away from the heat generated by this wonderful young ensemble and the torch being passed nightly by the extraordinary group of theatre veterans with whom they share the stage. Together, they kick off their Sunday shoes and bring patrons a most enjoyable Footloose.
Marriott Theatre presents “Foortloose” through June 2 at 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire. More information and tickets are available here.