The score is all over the place – a messy combination of those big, blustery 80s classic pop songs from the film; forgettable, Disney-lite ballads and wannabe Lloyd Webber deep and meaningfuls which never really hit the mark. Until the end, the overenthusiastic dance routines had all the excitement of watching a stage full of psychotic aerobics instructors.
As lead character Ren, newcomer Max Milner tries hard and although competent doesn’t quite convince, and most of the American accents are all over the shop. Steven “Max Farnham” Pinder, as Rev Moore, is likeable but doesn’t quite deliver with the presence that is arguably required. As a slice of camp Americana, there’s something of the school play about it, like an imagining of an alien place nobody involved has ever been (if they’d pronounced it “Chi-carr-gow” once more time I’d have eaten my programme in sheer annoyance). The direction is cheesy and derivative, and the production’s biggest selling point and one of its most interesting, confident performers – Busted’s Matt Willis as bad boy Chuck – is practically a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role. There’s absolutely zero dramatic tension in the horribly obvious plot, in which case it’s little more than a case of linking A to B to get to the end.
However, the show did redeem itself. It got off to a strong start with opening number Footloose, set against a good-looking set and a classic song everyone knew. Yet until the very end – Footloose, again – it didn’t manage to regain that sense of musical theatre excitement. Then, something happened, and the show, unbelievably, got very good indeed. If only the rest of it had been as fun and joyous as the last 15 minutes (including a raucous, dance-along encore), it would have been brilliant. Nevertheless, it got a standing ovation as at least one third to a half of the people around me in the stalls got to their feet to show their appreciation. Hm. Not quite sure what I missed there.
Pic of Matt Willis by Robert Day. Footloose is on at the Empire until Saturday (March 12).