Dance musical is lively, athletic

Merely Players offers 1980s enthusiasm in its production of `Footloose'



Merely Players' polished production of Footloose treats fans of athletic prowess, lively dance - and nostalgia for 1980s pop music.

The Dean Pitchford and Tom Snow musical, which debuted on Broadway in 1998, is based on the 1984 hit movie that starred Kevin Bacon as the outsider teenager who starts a rebellion against misguided adult oppression.

Transported from Chicago to rural America, free-spirited Ren is frustrated by the ban against dancing imposed by the town's minister after a car accident killed some local high school students, including his son.

While teens today seem to face few such rigid restraints, the plot of young people crusading for the right to dance at a prom retains a timely and innocent appeal. In fact, I noticed an unusually large number of young people at Saturday's performance at the Chesapeake Arts Center. The production opened the previous evening.

Having lit up past Talent Machine productions on stage, director Steve Love displays talent on the other side of the footlights, setting a dynamic pace and cleverly using stage space to keep multiple actions moving simultaneously.

Marsha Goldsmith does her usual first-rate job as music director, providing live music for such radio standbys as the title song, "Let's Hear it for the Boy" and power ballad "Almost Paradise."

Matt Macis' choreography is lively, requiring the talents of a superbly conditioned young cast. Frank Anthony makes a spectacular Merely Players debut in the lead role. Loose-jointed and lithe, Anthony makes every dance move look easy, acting convincingly and displaying a pleasant singing voice.

As farm boy Willard Hewitt, Ren's only friend, Omar Said is funny and convincing in his transformation from klutz to adept dancer.

As the Rev. Shaw Moore, Judson Davis adds another illustrious performance to his growing list. Davis has a warm baritone voice and enunciates better than anyone else in the cast to add impact to his songs.

Annie Sherman, who plays his teenage daughter Ariel - and Ren's love interest - dances and sings well as she becomes dedicated to championing Ren's cause of reviving dance at the prom.

Vi Moore as her mother expertly handles the acting and singing chores and as Ariel's friend, Rusty, Noelle Collison sets off sparks with some of the best dancing in the show.

I also was impressed with the singing of Jamie Wade who plays Ren's mother, Ethel. Her "Learning to be Silent" duet with Cory's Vi is a high point of the show. Wade also can really move.

It's no surprise that Footloose's lyrics call to "kick off your Sunday shoes."

Performances will be at 8 p.m. today and tomorrow and at 3 p.m. Sunday at Chesapeake Arts Center's main stage, 194 Hammonds Lane, Brooklyn Park. Tickets cost $12 for center members, students and seniors and $15 for nonmembers. Call 410-636-6597 or pick up tickets at the box office before the performance of your choice.

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