Reviews/Music/Musical Theatre

WAAPA’s rising stars put best feet forward

10 June 2023

In a production worthy of the big stage, WAAPA’s cast and crew make all the right moves. Julie Hosking prepares to cut loose – Footloose.

Footloose the Musical, WAAPA Music Theatre and Music students
His Majesty’s Theatre, 9 June 2023

“You are trouble, t-r-u-b-l-e,” Willard spells out to his new mate Ren. What the cowboy-hatted goofball lacks in literacy he makes up with heart and humour.

Just like Ariel’s feisty friend Rusty, the supporting character gets some of the best material in the musical adaptation of Footloose and reminds us that playing second fiddle isn’t always a bad thing.

Footloose is a song that has been tearing up dance floors for almost 40 years and, for those of a certain vintage, a film that introduced us to the first degree of Kevin Bacon. Who can forget his singlet-clad Ren ripping through a warehouse to the tune of Moving Pictures’ Never?

The story, written by Dean Pitchford and adapted with Walter Bobbie for the 1998 musical, was inspired by the 1980 graduating class in Elmore City, Oklahoma, who petitioned their school board for the right to hold a prom.

When Ren relocates with his single mother to the small town of Bomont, he’s shocked to discover there’s a ban on dancing brought about by a tragic car accident involving four teenagers and a preacher’s desire to protect his flock from “easy sexuality and loose morals”.

Tim Brown as the preacher holds sway over his flock. Photo: Stephen Heath

Comparisons to Bacon’s Ren are inevitable for anyone who grew up with the 1984 film (don’t talk to me about the 2011 remake). Mitchell France’s Ren is sweet and gawky, rather than charismatic, making it hard to believe how quickly the outsider goes from bully magnet to teen leader, galvanising a campaign to overturn the dance ban. It also renders his romance with rebel Ariel (Belle Parkinson) less believable, though the two do share a touching duet on Almost Paradise.


Far more endearing is his relationship with Willard, who Matthew Manning inhabits in the same way as the late Chris Penn did in the movie. Manning has one of the best songs written for the musical – Mama Says – and gets some of the biggest laughs with his attempts to master some dance moves (how hard must it be to act like you can’t dance when you clearly can).

Matthew Manning as Willard shows his dance moves. Photo: Stephen Heath

The film boasted two acting greats, John Lithgow and Dianne Wiest, as preacher Shaw Moore and his stoic wife Vi, and the young guns stepping into their shoes here do them proud. Emily Lambert delivers an aching Can You Find It in Your Heart? while Tim Brown’s rich voice soars through Heaven Help Me, imbuing the grief that has torn their family apart. Lambert also combines beautifully with Grace Alston (as Ren’s mother Ethel) and Parkinson on Learning to Be Silent, raising the voices of voiceless women.

Artemis Alfonzetti is fabulous as the sharp-tongued Rusty, ably supported by Genevieve Goldman and Mia Guglielmi as Ariel’s other gal pals, Urleen and Wendy-Jo. Led by Parkinson, the foursome belt out Holding Out for a Hero – somehow turning the frankly ludicrous idea of being rescued by a white knight into a female anthem.

The cast, including an excellent ensemble, make you care about what happens even when the dialogue ventures into hokey territory. Jodie Bickle’s choreography gives them plenty of room to demonstrate some fancy footwork throughout and the orchestra, led by musical director Craig Dalton, is terrific.

Bryan Woltjen’s set is clever, morphing from church to living room, school locker room to highway, and burger joint to railway line with ease. The stairs at the back are used to brilliant effect, particularly during Somebody’s Eyes, as lighting designer Jason Glenwright conveys the almost sinister surveillance of a small town with sudden illumination. Costume designer Megan Parker has also excelled, most notably in the myriad ways to use double denim.

There are elements that don’t quite work for me – fairy-like dancers weaving across stage during key songs; the four ‘ghosts’ from the accident a constant presence in the preacher’s living room – and Moore’s conversion seems all too quick compared with his character’s arc in the film, but they are minor beefs.

Footloose is ultimately about freedom, the freedom to express yourself, to love who you love, and dance like there’s no tomorrow. Director Jason Langley has marshalled a group of rising stars who will send you smiling and dancing out into the night. Everybody – cut loose!

Footloose the Musical is at His Majesty’s Theatre until 15 June.

Pictured top: The cast of WAAPA’s ‘Footloose The Musical’ with Mitchell France as Ren cutting loose. Photo by Stephen Heath.

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Author —
Julie Hosking

A journalist with more words to her name than she can count, Julie Hosking has worked for newspapers, magazines and online publications in Melbourne and Perth. She has been a news editor, travel editor, features editor, arts editor and, for one terrifying year, business editor, before sanity prevailed and she landed in her happy place - magazines. If pushed (literally), she favours the swing.

Past Articles

  • Spring into the school holidays

    From Awesome activities to magical nannies, there are so many marvellous ways to have a jolly holiday, writes Julie Hosking.

  • In the eye of the storm

    Breaksea’s poignant story of the search for light in the darkest hours ignites the senses. Julie Hosking rides the waves of emotion.

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