Review: Footloose (Storyhouse Chester)

 

Chester has needed somewhere like the Storyhouse for a long time. The stylish and spacious arts and leisure centre houses not only a theatre and cinema but also the city’s relocated central library, bars and a large restaurant. I’ve popped in a few times since it opened earlier this year but this was the first time I’d seen a live performance, and I’m pleased to report that the 800 seat theatre space is as impressive as the rest of the building. The whole shebang has a contemporary New York feel and really is a great addition to the region’s cultural scene.

And so to the show. The rest of us may be clinging onto summer for as long as we can, but the Storyhouse’s autumn season is now officially underway, and kicking things off (in more ways than one) is this exuberant, crowdpleasing stage version of the hit Eighties film Footloose. The adaptation was a Broadway smash nearly 20 years ago, and it’s easy to see why. The combination of a strong storyline, great songs and spectacular dance routines adds up to a surefire success.

Footloose tells a classic American teenage tale in the tradition of Happy Days and American Graffiti. Joshua Dowen takes on Kevin Bacon’s role as Ren McCormack, the hip city boy who moves with his mother (Lindsay Goodhand) from Chicago to a rural American backwater whose puritanical town council have banned dancing. Ren spearheads a rebellion and tries to organize a high school dance, enlisting the help of endearingly simple country boy Willard (Dominic Gee Burch, who comes close to stealing the show) and smart, strongwilled Ariel Moore (Hannah Price). Ariel and Ren’s relationship slowly blossoms, but a major difficulty is that she already has a boyfriend, bad boy Chuck (Connor Going). Another is that her father (Reuven Gershon) is a fire and brimstone preacher convinced – for reasons connected to a tragedy which struck the town five years earlier – that following rock’n’roll will lead you to damnation. Ariel’s mother, struggling with her divided loyalties, is very well played by Maureen Nolan (one of the famous sisters).

The show is superbly performed. The cast are excellent and give it all they’ve got, whether acting, singing, dancing or providing the music (most of them do all four). The score includes some real belters, notably Bonnie Tyler’s Holding Out For A Hero, the Oscar-nominated Let’s Hear It For The Boy and of course the dynamic title song.

Needless to say everyone was on their feet by the end, enjoying the show’s storming finale and saluting the efforts of the performers. Many of the audience had probably never been to the Storyhouse before, but I’m sure we’ll all be back.

*****  An irresistible feelgood show

Photos: Matt Martin

Footloose continues at Storyhouse Chester until Saturday 9 September 2017. For more information visit the Storyhouse website by clicking HERE.