Chanhassen Dinner Theatre seems to corner the market on nostalgic films from my youth. Their last production, The Music Man was a film I watched countless times as a kid. For Footloose it was the same. Footloose I saw in the theater first, then countless times on video. I can remember my Dad picking my sister and I up from Sunday School and taking us to the theater for the first showing of the day. I also played my cassette tape of the films soundtrack … a lot! We’ve seen a lot of these film to musical shows lately, An Officer and a Gentleman, Waitress, and Pretty Woman. For me, Footloose falls squarely with Waitress as a successful transformation into a stage musical from the film. If you’re a kid of the 70’s and 80’s as I am, this is your jam. Footloose was adapted for the stage by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie, from the screenplay by Pitchford. Pitchford wrote the lyrics for the new songs and was also co-writer on the songs from the soundtrack of the film. There’s a certain integrity to that and I think it shows how easily the show transfers to the stage. The changes, which are minimal, work because they came from the same mind.
For those of you unfamiliar, this is the story of a teenage fish out of water, Ren McCormack, who has moved from Chicago to the small town of Bomont with his newly single mother. They have nowhere else to go since his father left so they are staying with his Aunt and Uncle. Ren finds himself at odds with nearly everyone in town without even trying. The biggest small town blow is when he learns that the city has an honest to goodness law against dancing. The author of that law and the spiritual guardian of the town is Rev. Shaw Moore. His daughter, Ariel Moore, is of course a bit of a wild child and Ren’s love interest. Since nothing is simple in high school, Ariel has to have an abusive boyfriend as well. Before the end, Ren will have to make some friends, steal the girl, connect with her father, and make dancing safe again.
Chanhassen always picks fun shows that people will want to see again and again. This is actually their second time producing Footloose, it ran in 2010 previously. You’re not going to get cutting edge or experimental theatre at Chanhassen, but you’re guaranteed to have a great dinner and a fun musical, making for a great night out. They pick the sure-fire shows from musical theaters long history, they do this because they run them for a long time. The Music Man closed this last January 2022 and opened in 2020 for God’s sake. How do you know they are good? I’ve never been there when the theatre wasn’t completely sold out, or close to it. This is as close as you get to a sure thing in theater. Chanhassen has some of the best talent in the Twin Cities, always top notch musicians, actors, dancers, singers, and costume designers. Footloose is no exception, it’s a crowd pleaser, the way only Chanhassen can do it.
On to the specifics. As always the cast is great here, they really do seem to attract some of the best talent. Not everyone is perfectly cast, but they still make it fun. Alan Bach is only slightly miscast as Ren. He can sing and is a very athletic dancer, but just a little too suburban rather than urban for the Chicago badboy. Ariel, normally played by Maya Richardson, was played the night I saw it by her understudy Laura Rudolph, who slid into the role nicely. The Music Man himself Michael Gruber plays Rev. Moore. Gruber finds a way to make the Rev. the antagonist of the piece without being a villian. He finds a way to make us all understand that he really believes in what he is doing and also make us believe his change of heart. There were four highlights for me from the supporting cast. Shinah Hey who plays Ariel’s friend Rusty. Hey grabs your attention from the opening song “Footloose” where her confidence and musical chops draw everyone’s attention. She shines again singing with the other teenage girls, the Jim Steinman classic “Holding Out for a Hero”. And she stops the show with her performance of “Let’s Hear It for the Boy”. Those three songs are the highlights of the entire show and they rock because of Shinah Hey’s vocals and performance. Hey is a star to watch. Lynnea Doublette as Ariel’s mother Vi is the heart of the show to Gruber’s conscience. She brings a sense of real world understanding unexpectedly to a raucous footstompin’ show. Kersten Rodau has a small little part as Betty Blast, a roller skate wearing drive up diner waitress, and does what every great character actor does. Comes on for five or ten minutes half way through Act I, and it’s the moment your commenting on during the drive home. Lastly, it was nice to see Matthew Hall as Willard, it’s a role that has probably been treated the least kindly by Pitchford in his transformation from screen to stage. The character is dumbed down to a level that makes him something of a caricature. It’s not Hall’s performance, he plays it the only way you can in order to make his characters big song “Mama says” work as well as it does. More on that shortly, but I wanted to acknowledge that Hall was in Minneapolis Musical Theater’s Be More Chill, which was one of the shows I saw in the spring of 2019 that led me to begin reviewing theater.
So the music, a lot of your favorites from the movie soundtrack are here and they are the highlights. They work them into the show nicely and even though we are used to the rock versions, the musical theatre arrangements work really well, mainly because they still rock. The new songs just don’t have a lot to add to the mix. They are not bad per se, so much as mostly forgettable. One exception is Willards number “Mama Says”, the song works way better than it has any right to. Willards character was relegated to a caricature solely, I believe, to make this song viable. It’s basically a copy of three or four other musical theater songs. My wife actually asked me what musical that song was from originally, I told her it wasn’t it just sounds like a couple of others. I’m still not sure she believes me, I found her googeling “Mama Says”. It’s a fun comedic song that feels like it wandered in from another stage, and yet, this too we were talking about on the drive home. There are plenty of great musical moments aside from the songs mentioned; you also have from the movie soundtrack “Almost Paradise”, “Somebody’s Eyes” which work really well within the story, and a couple of others as well. Music Director Andrew Kust and his band are tight. Director Michael Brindisi does what he does best, direct Chanhassen Dinner theatre shows. Know one knows this space, what works and what won’t like Brindisi. Chanhassen Dinner Theatre puts on popular entertainments that have broad appeal and Brindisi has mastered this style of production. I hope he takes that as the compliment it’s meant as, because I think that’s a very important skill to have in this world. We need a place like Chanhassen that will always come through, always give us that boost we need from a joyful song, a big laugh, and a well-timed kiss.
Footloose plays through September 24th, but don’t let that make you complacent, I looked ahead and there are a lot of sold out shows. Chanhassen is a great way to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, get together for an evening out with friends, or to take the daughter and that shifty transplant from Chicago who seems to have ants in his pants that she’s started hanging around with to. You get a great meal and a fun show, for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://chanhassendt.com/footloose/
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