More than 30 years since Kevin Bacon’s iconic performance in Footloose hit the big screen its status as a classic remains untouched and after watching Solihull youth group SOSage’s production it’s easy to see why.
The story follows handsome Chicago teenager Ren McCormack’s (Lewis Evans) move to the small town of Bomont to live with his aunt and uncle after his father leaves home.
Ren feels stifled by Bomont’s stuffy conventions, personified by the town’s starchy reverend Shaw Moore (David Winfield) and worse still for the boy who can’t stand still; there’s a ban on dancing in Bomont.
Ren finds himself getting into a series of minor scrapes as he upsets the apple cart in his new home but undeterred sets about bringing the townspeople around to his ways with charm and charisma; traits the leading man in this musical desperately needs and which Evans has in spades throughout.
Evans looks and sounds the part; thoroughly convincing as the heartthrob new kid who has an uncanny ability to bring everyone on side. Unsurprisingly an ability to sing, dance and even rap are required for the role but not at the expense of acting. In this sense a scene towards the end of the show when Ren has a heart-to-heart with the stubborn Shaw Moore about their respective losses was particularly strong.
As the story unfolds it becomes apparent reverend Shaw’s animosity is in fact a result of his own sorrow, which he sings about in the touching number Confess. And encouraged by Ren’s boundless enthusiasm for life the sense of loss which has enveloped the town, following a tragedy which involved reverend Shaw’s own teenage son, begins to breakdown.
Ren quickly takes a shine to the reverend’s daughter Ariel and in this vocally demanding part Zoe Wheat is the one who really shines. The chemistry between the pair is excellent and Wheat has a cracking voice; soft in a lovely rendition of Almost Paradise with Ren when it needs to be, but then belting in numbers like Holding out for a Hero.
Ariel is at logger heads with her well-meaning but strict father for much of the story and in scenes between the two their acting brought across the age-old struggle between a teenage daughter and her protective father very strongly.
The difficulty of youth productions is casting youngsters who can act old and Winfield very ably leads a number of such performances of which Eilidh Evans as his concerned wife Vi and Jess Shannon as Ren’s droll mother, Ethel, stand out. Shannon’s intelligent performance in her scenes with Ren are particularly enjoyable and the mother-son chemistry is utterly believable despite them being no doubt very close in age.
It’s a mark of the quality of the production and casting that there are so many commendable performances. Ariel’s friends: Georgie Beth, Lizzie Mclurgh and Abi Cody are a delightful threesome; both funny and convincing with well-delivered gags and voices that blend well in Somebody’s Eyes.
Special mention must go to Matt Smith as Ren’s new friend Willard Hewitt. As the hot-headed but hapless country boy whose dancing is as bad as his ability to talk to girls, he delivers a performance of great humour and maturity and stole the show in the second act as he recalls the advice of his dear mother in a comedic rendition of Mama Says – well supported by his three chums. The audience’s reaction to this number said it all.
It was also delightful to see such a vibrant chorus supporting the production with some very young members remaining focused and energetic throughout.
I can say in all honesty this was a show which trumped many adult shows I have seen, both in terms of performance standard and entertainment value. Director Emma Talibudeen and her team should be extremely proud. The iconic final number remains one of the all-time toe-tapping, modern musical classics and the show was rightly given wild applause as the curtain fell.
It is worth remembering that groups like this give young people their first experience of the stage and in many cases they will go on to become the next generation of amateur performers in the area and even perhaps go on to have careers in performing arts. On this evidence the burgeoning number of amateur groups in Solihull needn’t worry at all about the future.
A big thumbs up for this thoroughly-entertaining production.
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