The stage adaptation of the 1984 film ‘Footloose’ opened last night at the Royal Court in Liverpool for its final week of its 2017 tour.  Ashamedly, having never seen the film, I was not too sure what to expect – although I was aware of the storyline.

Footloose tells the story of Ren McCormack – a rebellious teen who moves from Chicago to a small rural community with his mother.  Ren, played by Joshua Dowen, struggles to adjust to life in Bomont – a place where the locals still grieve the death of 4 teenagers and where the local preacher Reverend Shaw Moore (Reuven Gershon) has banned dancing and rock music to the frustration of the town’s youth.

By and large, the cast can’t be faulted – but it did seem to take a little while for it to get going.  The first song ‘Footloose’ seemed to lack the energy you’d expect from a show’s opening number, although this could be due to this being the first performance since the production finished in London at the end of September.

Unlike other musicals, the songs of Footloose, with a few exceptions are largely forgettable, although that shouldn’t detract from the cast’s abilities.  They acted, sang, danced and intermittently played various instruments – showing great versatility and credible musicianship.  The crowd seemed to come alive during the song ‘Holding Out for A Hero.’  Not only is it instantly recognisable by it’s opening line, but it’s also the point in the show where, during the routine, Gareth Gates strips down to his shorts, revealing his impressive abs to the delight of the predominantly female audience.  Gareth, of course, shot to fame when he finished as runner-up to Will Young in the first series of Pop Idol.  He went on to have a highly successful music career, selling over 5 million records worldwide.  Gareth plays Willard in Footloose and has to be commended on his transition from pop star to stage star, displaying excellent comedy timing throughout.  Despite being the big name of the show, he humbly blends in with the other cast members and shows off his musical ability playing guitar and keys on a few numbers.  He leads on just one song called ‘Mama Says’ during the second half of the show.

Maureen Nolan played the Reverend’s wife, Vi.  She displayed good chemistry with Reuven Gershon and showed off her vocal ability during ‘Can You Find It in Your Heart.’ 

The show was nearly cut short due to a woman collapsing a few rows back from where I was sat.  A member of the production crew came on stage during one of the scenes and announced the show was being stopped.  The curtain came down and the house lights came up for about 10 minutes.  Thankfully, the woman seemed to be OK when she came round aside from a little embarrassment and the cast came back on to finish the final scene. 

This was a good production, that perhaps lacked energy at times. Another minor criticism was that some of the vocals were drowned out at times by the music, but all in all, it’s worth seeing. The show has some cheeky double entendres, great comedy moments as well as some heartfelt exchanges.  Emma Fraser, playing Wendy-Jo is superb and deservedly received one the biggest cheers during the bow.  This is her first UK tour and should definitely not be her last.  A mention must also go to Matt Cole – the choreographer for some neat dance routines, particularly the one involving car tyres.

Footloose runs at the Royal Court in Liverpool until Friday 3rd November. http://www.royalcourtliverpool.co.uk/whats-on/footloose/

Reviewer: Matt Houghton

Reviewed: 30th October 2017

North West End Rating: ★★★

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