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Kick off your Sunday shoes

Molly Griffin | Monday, February 13, 2006

It’s a song, it’s a movie, it’s a … musical?

The Pasquerilla East Musical Company (PEMCo.) performed “Footloose” on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night at Washington Hall. Based on the 1980s film starring Kevin Bacon, the musical entertained the crowd with strong performances and an upbeat sensibility.

“Footloose” tells the story of Ren McCormack (Will McAuliffe), a Chicago native who is forced to move to the small town of Boman with his mother Ethel (Kathleen Sullivan) after his father leaves. Under the influence of the strict Reverend Shaw Moore (Joseph Garlock), the town has a number of strict rules in place, including a ban on dancing within the city limits. Ren, along with the Reverend’s rebellious daughter Ariel (Callie Hoffman) and the rest of his classmates, fights the rules to prove he is more than just the town troublemaker.

“I wanted to do something really upbeat, funny and with lots of dancing,” director Jenny Radelet said. “I was also drawn to the fact that it’s fairly modern and has all those great songs from the ’80s. Plus we thought since ‘Footloose’ was a pretty popular movie, the name would draw a big audience.”

In an interesting twist on standard musicals, “Footloose” blends pop songs from the 1980s with original music. While the original compositions aren’t as immediately recognizable as songs from more famous musicals, all of the songs are decently entertaining. Some, such as the rollicking “Mama Says (You Can’t Back Down)” and “I’m Free/Heaven Help Me” are better than others, but all of the songs are peppy and upbeat, much like the musical itself.

The musical includes ’80s pop songs including “Almost Paradise,” “Let’s Hear It For the Boy” and “Holding Out for a Hero.” The musical does a good job of integrating the songs without feeling too forced. While these songs do make the musical a definite sing-along crowd-pleaser, they can make it seem a little bit cheesy and can be distracting at times because they are so recognizable and the original songs are not.

One of the best parts of “Footloose,” much like the movie upon which it is based, is the dancing.

“For a choreographer, ‘Footloose’ is a dream show,” said senior Natalie Martinez, the show’s choreographer. The show includes everything from Temptations-style diva numbers to country line dancing.”

Coupled with the generally upbeat music, the dance numbers were high-energy, athletic events. They ranged from the expected “Footloose” style of dancing to a great line dancing scene, and even included a dance set during gym class.

The performers pulled off the clearly intense routines with apparent ease, and they were all well-choreographed in spite of the diverse range of styles.

The dancing seemed different from what you get in most musicals, which was one of the definite strengths of the performance.

“The music of Footloose doesn’t lend itself to your typical musical theatre choreography,” Martinez said. “It’s the type of music you blare on the radio or dance to at a party. As the choreographer, my goal was to keep the dancing spontaneous and fun while at the same time challenging and impressive.”

PEMCo’s cast was definitely the most impressive part of the performance of “Footloose.” The energy of the cast proved absolutely infectious, and every scene was clearly the result of a lot of practice and a deep love of performing.

While the whole cast truly does a great job, there were some significant standouts in the performance. Will McAuliffe, as Ren, was a solid leading man with great dancing and singing skills, and he was complimented by Callie Hoffman’s powerful voice and presence as Ariel.

Joseph Garlock, who played the antagonistic Reverend Moore, was not only a convincing adult, but he brought emotional depth to the otherwise simple story.

Ariel’s trio of friends, including Rusty (Regan Harding), Urleen (Andrea Laidman) and Wendy Jo (Pam Williams), were terrific performers and provided some of the best comic moments in the musical.

Jack Calcutt played the hilarious over-the-top country character of Willard Hewitt and provided some of the night’s biggest laughs.

“There’s a moment during the first refrain of “Let’s Hear It For the Boy” when Jack gets this goofy, amazing smile on his face after feeling the rhythm for the first time,” Radelet said. “Every single time it happens, I die laughing and just thank God for musical theatre.”

Overall, PEMCo. put on a fantastic show with what is an entertaining, albeit somewhat cheesy, musical. The energy of the show, the great singing and dancing and the exuberance of the cast made it a performance worth watching.