Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s sold-out production of Footloose is a fun blend of music, singing, and dance, with a message that feels necessary today. Based on the classic ’80s movie set in a small town in Texas where dancing is illegal, it is adapted for the stage by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie, with lyrics by Dean Pitchford and music by Tom Snow, also featuring music by Eric Carmen, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins, and Jim Steinman. Directed by Jerry Vess, with Anita O’Connor as music director and Lynda P. Fitzgerald as choreographer, it is a great show to end the 57th season.
Matthew Walter plays Ren, a Chicago transplant newly arrived in Bomont, Texas, with enthusiastic energy. In “I Can’t Stand Still,” he shakes across the stage, doing summersaults and even dancing (to his classmates’ horror). He responds with nervous quips and exclaims in disbelief when learning about the dance ban. In “I’m Free”/”Heaven Help Me,” he encourages the school to challenge it, charismatically leading the students. He also has heartfelt moments, bonding with Ariel (Danielle Kellner) and even growing closer to Reverend Moore (E. Lee Nicol) over shared loss.
Danielle Kellner plays Ariel, the Reverend’s daughter, with a rebellious, independent spirit. In “The Girl Gets Around,” she dances with each of bad-boy boyfriend Chuck’s (Jayden Maduro) friends, refusing to leave when he orders her. She speaks passionately about books and in “Holding Out for a Hero,” she dramatically sings about finding a good man. Her duet with Walter in “Almost Paradise” is tender and loving, and she sings with quiet emotion of having to hold her tongue in “Learning to Be Silent.”
E. Lee Nicol gives an authority and seriousness to Reverend Moore. In “On Any Sunday,” he sings sincerely from the pulpit about protecting the town’s children from the world’s “moral corruptions.” He leads the town council in firmly defending the dance ban, fiercely arguing with Walter. And yet in “Heaven Help Me,” he shows his vulnerability, wondering if he is doing the right thing. His speech at the end is moving, and in a reprise of “Can You Find It in Your Heart?” he sings with a new life.
Ellen Quay gives a quiet strength to Vi, the Reverend’s wife. She defends Kellner, reminding Nichol in “Can You Find It in Your Heart?” that they used to be just as rebellious at her age. In “Learning to Be Silent,” she sings wistfully about being ignored. She stands up for Walter, even encouraging the town council to let him speak.
Jim Diamondidis has excellent comic timing as Willard, Ren’s best friend. Always ready to fight at the drop of a hat, he is charmingly awkward around Rusty (Cailey Smith). Watching him learn to dance by following Walter’s moves is lovely. In “Mama Says,” he sings about his mother’s comic advice, but mainly, to never give up.
Cailey Smith is a hoot as Ariel’s friend Rusty. She sings soulfully of her love for Willard in “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” admiring him even with his “two left feet.” Along with Tatiana Andolz-Casanova as Wendy Jo and Tia Silver as Urleen, she brings a quiet melancholy to “Somebody’s Eyes,” singing of how the neighbors police and judge each other in a small town.
Jayden Maduro brings a menace to Chuck, Ariel’s boyfriend. Controlling and jealous, he pulls her along and nearly comes to blows with Ren. Crista Drysdale plays Ren’s mother Ethel with a quiet determination, offering him good advice after the town council meeting. In “Learning to Be Silent,” she grieves for having to stay quiet. Drew Looney gives enthusiasm to nightclub singer Cowboy Bob, singing of the joys of dancing in “Still Rockin” and flirting with Rusty. Romonzo Beans plays Coach with aggressive hostility, bullying Ren and making the whole class do multiple push-ups. Elizabeth Darby as Aunt Lulu and Adam Lee Conklin as Uncle Wes both treat Ren with open suspicion.
Set Designers Jerry Vess and Peter Kaiser have created a simple yet effective set. Papered walls on the far left serve as Reverend Moore’s home, while on the right a wall with funky graphics is the burger place. In the center, two painted trees conceal the musicians, a gorgeous sunset on the above balcony. Costumer Linda Ridge helps distinguish the characters, most women wearing simple dresses. Reverend Moore is in a jacket and tie, along with a black gown and green cassock. Ariel wears short cut-off jeans with red cowboy boots, while Chuck is in ripped jeans, a black vest, and leather jacket. Willard wears striped shirts, jeans, and a cowboy hat, while Cowboy Bob has cowboy boots and a hat along with a vest.
Lighting Designers Alexander Brady and John Purnell help reflect the show’s atmosphere, bathing the stage in red light for “Holding Out for a Hero” and dimming the lights for emotional songs like “Learning to Be Silent” or “Can You Find It in Your Heart?” Sound Designer Josie Danckaert throws out sound effects like a passing train.
Music Director Anita O’Connor ensures the musicians never overwhelm the singing; indeed, some songs feel nearly a cappella. Choreographer Lynda P. Fitzgerald creates many lovely dance numbers and movements, with a country western flavor. Jerry Vess does a wonderful job as director. The cast hits both comic timing and emotional moments perfectly. Watching this show, with its protest against the dance ban, reminds this viewer of the states that have, under the guise of “protecting children” banned drag performances, and the many people fighting against it. Although the run is sold out, visit Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s website for any open tickets; it is well worth watching.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, including a 20-minute intermission.
Footloose plays through September 3, 2023, at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre – 143 Compromise Street, Annapolis, MD. All performances are currently sold out; if tickets become available, they will be listed here.
The online program for Footloose is here.