Footloose opens with Ren McCormack and his mother Ethel moving from Chicago to small town Bomont, and Ormond Drama have made the same journey, after performing Chicago at the Union Theatre last year. Back at the same venue in 2019, the theatre is abuzz with opening night nerves and excitement, as family, friends and the rest of the audience eagerly await their introduction to Ren and the citizens of Bomont.
In what would perhaps seem an antithetical premise for a musical, dancing is banned in Footloose’s Bomont, but Ren, played by Noah Szto, is determined to change this law. This struggle pits the new boy in town against the might of Reverend Moore, played by Max Ramsay, but Ren finds an unlikely ally in the Reverend’s daughter Ariel, portrayed by Mary McCorry.
Szto’s performance is wonderfully energetic, he skilfully showcases the requisite dance chops for the role, more than matching the moves of Kevin Bacon’s on-screen Ren. Szto navigates both comedic and romantic scenes with aplomb, and whilst his voice is not necessarily the biggest or the strongest in the show, he displays a beautiful falsetto in ‘Almost Paradise’.
Frequently playing against Szto is McCorry, her performance as Ariel is supreme. McCorry’s vocal range and control is magnificent, her dancing displays natural (and well-practiced) talent, and her nuanced acting elicits both admiration and empathy for Ariel. McCorry also deserves a tip of the (cowboy) hat for maintaining the best and most consistent American accent of the show.
The songs of Footloose beam the spotlight wider across the cast and band. The magical three-part harmony of McCorry, Greta Kantor and Sophie Douglas in ‘Learning to be Silent’, no doubt overseen by director/vocal coach Peter Lejins, is a first act highlight. The piece is enhanced in no small way by Olivia Hartwig’s excellent melodies on the flute. Kantor and Douglas play Vi Moore and Ethel McCormack respectively, highly contrasting roles, but both actors impress. Kantor’s Moore is understated and kind, and Kantor has a lovely, vulnerable singing voice. The portrayal of Ethel is loud, physical, forceful and hilarious; Douglas shines through as the strongest actor in the show.
‘Let’s Hear It for the Boy’ is Jo Dalstead’s chance to dazzle in the role of Rusty, and she doesn’t miss out! After Chris Chamberlain impeccably lays down the iconic bassline on the keys, Dalstead belts out the number, proudly exhibiting her huge voice, and the final note is ridiculous (in a good way). A small weakness of Ormond’s production is its general inability to match the vocal heights of Dalstead and McCorry, but the choreography helps offset this throughout the show. Director/Choreographer Annie Dryden (who also plays Urleen) should be commended: the dance routines cleverly utilise the large ensemble casts, stylistically they match the American small-town narrative, and well-executed splits, lifts and flips are used to good effect.
Ormond’s Footloose is extremely funny. Scott Baker’s laidback portrayal of the laconic Willard Hewitt draws frequent and raucous laughter, his comedic timing is spot on. Lachlan Roberts throws himself around as town bully Chuck Cranston; his energy in ‘The Girl Gets Around’ ensures its slapstick humour is effective.
Microphone and sound issues are an unfortunate distraction at times during the show; in contrast, lighting complements the action well. Tash Reading’s design uses strobe effects to accent Dryden’s choreography, spotlights to dramatically unite the show’s lovers and colour to heighten emotion. Bronte Ammentorp’s costume work is also seamless (though not literally), as white tees, double denim and powerful boots provide Bomont with an unmistakable look.
Reverend Moore is the town’s (self-appointed) moral guardian. Max Ramsay adroitly balances authority and uncertainty in the role, garnering empathy for the notional villain of the piece. The show’s score is also vital in generating emotion, and young conductor Oscar Wycisk impressively leads the band in this aural groundwork.
Ormond’s Footloose, true to its name, gets a little loose by its finish, but fun and humour is ever present. The cast evidently love performing the show, which only enhances the audience’s enjoyment – most of the opening night crowd are on their feet by the bows.
If you need a pick-me-up, I recommend one dose of Footloose at the Union Theatre!
Ormond Drama‘s production of Footloose ran from 8 – 10 August at The Union Theatre.