‘Footloose’ was vibrant.
Who doesn’t love a movie musical?! And what’s more, a movie jukebox musical! From sequined boots, leather jackets, characters who are just a bit too OTT to be realistic and songs we know and love, the opening night audience of ‘Footloose’ at Phoenix Ensemble left the building with a smile on their face and a pep in their step.
Celebrating all the tropes of classic jukebox goodness, ‘Footloose’ follows the story of Ren McCormack (Sam Caruana), an enthusiastic teen who’s just moved from his colourful life in Chicago to Bomont, a town under the thumb of Reverend Shaw Moore (Andrew McArthur). Ren quickly discovers that Bomont is a far cry from the life he left behind. Alcohol is outlawed, curfews are enforced and the greatest travesty of them all…absolutely no dancing.
Phoenix Ensemble are masters at transforming their small tin shed theatre into another world. Every inch of the space is firmly rooted in the story they’re presenting. The stage floor was painted and textured, writing was scribbled on the walls, representing Ariel Moore’s diary (Yasmin Fitzgerald) and the proscenium was clad in corrugated plastic, giving the space a more rustic feel.
Set design by Isabelle Quayle and construction by Michael Redfern, The Baker Family and the cast and crew of Footloose similarly supported the story and allowed visual dynamics on the stage. There were two raised platforms stage right and left with a small staircase connecting them. The stained glass doors centre stage brought a pop of colour to the otherwise sepia set and centred the audience’s eye on the action.
Lighting design by Maddy Bosanko was carefully considered and built into the set itself. From LED strip light spelling “Footloose” and fairy lights on the back wall, it was an incredibly visually pleasing space. Lighting design was effective in leading the audience’s eye despite some opening night mishaps which are sure to improve as the run progresses.
Small spaces are a challenge for many reasons and Sound Designer, Luke O’Hagan definitely had his work cut out for him. With high energy songs, a large cast and band all competing for airspace, there were many moments where the vocals were too far forward in the mix and sound blasted the audience. This was particularly apparent when harmonies didn’t quite gel. However, Ariel’s bestie trio, Rusty (AJ Betts), Wendy Jo (Wednesday Reign) and Urleen (Chelsea Jamieson) featured some of the best balanced and impressive vocals of the show. Despite some mic issues for Wednesday early on, ‘Somebody’s Eyes’ highlighted these talented performers in all the right ways. Micheal Enright as Jetter/Cowboy Bob and leading talent Sam Caruana were also able to show off their impressive vocals in moments where there weren’t too many elements competing for attention.
Relative newcomer to the directing space, Isabelle Quayle should be commended for creating a show with clear artistic vision and considered direction. It was a show that just made sense. It was easy to follow, easy to watch and kept audiences invested. Quayle and assistant director Jo Burnett played with status through physical height and effectively moved the audience’s eye from one side of the stage to the other in seamless transitions. Quayle also tackled choreography alongside assistant choreographer Kirsten Brown. The duo effectively worked with the skill of the cast, creating vibrant moments in a very dance-heavy show.
Benjamin Richards as Musical Director rounded out the creative team. Footloose is a deceptively difficult score, weaving dialogue with well-known pop songs, altering rhythms and changing lyrics. Richards took on the challenge with great success, leading his skilled nine piece band.
Phoenix Ensemble consistently attract diverse and talented casts which celebrate the community found in Brisbane theatre and ‘Footloose’ was no exception.
Caruana as Ren was a standout in the lead cast. His tongue in cheek personality and joyous spirit was palpable in the small theatre. Caruana’s vocals and dancing firmly supported his acting, making him a true triple threat performer. Fitzgerald was an enchanting Ariel, oozing charm and character, it was a joy to watch her relationship with Ren unfold.
McArthur as the legalistic Shaw Moore, brought the audience on the significant character arch of his character. An incredibly challenging role to act, McArthur had the perfect balance of pulpit preacher and broken father. Della Days brought similar vulnerability to Vi Moore and it was a joy to watch both skilled actors on the Phoenix stage. Julianne Clinch as Ethel McCormack rounded out the parental figures in an endearing performance which showcased her character’s attempts to assimilate to the new world she found herself in
While the whole cast were incredibly talented, the trio of AJ Betts as Rusty, Wednesday Reign as Wendy Jo and Chelsea Jamieson as Urleen really shone in this production. Every portrayal was unique with excellent characterisation and sublime vocals. The trio showed great chemistry and brought a new level of professionalism to the stage.
Aidan Cobb as the wholesome and bumbling Willard Hewitt brought a smile to everyone’s faces. His blossoming relationship with Rusty was sweet and genuine and showed Cobb’s talent for character acting. Emma Erdis was a powerful Chuck Cranston. Erdis moved through the space with purpose and brought a venom to the otherwise upbeat and bubbly character types surrounding them.
No cast is complete without the ensemble and ‘Footloose’ was lucky to have a host of skilled performers in the background, each with their own story and journey. Ange Schoemake as Eleanorr Dunbar was an absolute stand out. While few in number, her lines displayed Schoemake’s impeccable comedic timing and landed with a laugh from the audience every time.
‘Footloose’ was a vibrant portrayal of what it means to find oneself and explores the fact that you’re never quite done with the journey of self-discovery. And what better place to celebrate the diversity of the human condition than on the stage!
‘Footloose’ performs until Saturday, 24 February 2024 at the Pavilion Theatre – Phoenix Ensemble. For more information visit their website.