You won't find the famous angry dance, or Ren wearing a wife-beater for that matter, in "Footloose," but with the flurry of exhilarating musical numbers that pack this Kennedy Center show, you won't totally miss it.
The classic Kevin Bacon film-turned-musical is now tearing up the Eisenhower Theater stage through Monday as part of the arts venue's popular Broadway Center Stage series. Walter Bobbie, who directed the original Broadway musical, is back to helm this crowd-pleasing production about a city boy from Chicago who shakes things up in a small Texas town, where dancing is forbidden.
The 1998 musical didn't fare too well on Broadway, which played to mixed reviews, but this production—featuring a revised book by Bobbie and Dean Pitchford, and music by Tom Snow—had audiences wildly applauding and on their feet Thursday night. This staging also gets a boost from dazzling choreography by Spencer Liff; there's even a crazy musical number where the young male dancers are whipping around dead animal tails on ropes.
J. Quinton Johnson, who appeared in "Hamilton" and last year's "In the Heights" (another Broadway Center Stage show), brings his own spin to the role of Ren McCormack, a rebellious teen with feet that just won't quit. He's an instant charmer from the opening "Footloose" and "Can't Stand Still" numbers. His Ren is not as edgy as Bacon's bad boy, and audiences will enjoy Johnson's take on this iconic character.
Isabelle McCalla ("The Prom," "Aladdin") shines as Ren's love interest and the reverend's feisty daughter, Ariel, who just wants to get out of Bomont and see the world. McCalla and Johnson have a sweet chemistry together, especially in the duet "Almost Paradise."
Michael Park, who recently said goodbye to "Dear Evan Hansen" after several years, is terrific as the Rev. Shaw Moore, who is better connecting with his congregation than with his own daughter. He, along with Johnson, deliver the musical's biggest emotional punch, when their characters find common ground over their losses. Ren's father abandoned their family and Moore lost his son in a bridge accident, which prompts the no dancing law.
Judy Kuhn and Rebecca Luker have some nice moments as Ren and Ariel's mothers. However, with these Broadway luminaries onboard, it's a shame that their roles couldn't have been much bigger.
Paul Tate dePoo III's industrial-looking set design, enhanced by simple projections, is clean and sharp with cast members quickly moving pieces on and off the stage. Calvin Woolard's vivid costumes help set the 1980s vibe, with Ren's red Michael Jackson-inspired jacket standing out among the flannel-and-jeans-wearing townsfolk.
"Footloose" is not a full-on production, but a semi-staged concert, and notes that actors will perform with scripts in their hands. In past shows, this was minimal or just absent, but for this one, it seems more rampant with both the main actors and ensemble carrying those clunky black binders.
While "Footloose" may not be up there with earlier Broadway Center Stage entries (such as "In the Heights," "The Music Man" and "The Who's Tommy"), which all had much stronger material, this breezy musical is an incredibly fun trip down memory lane.