By Dee Jae Cox
Coming of age can be a painful experience. It can hold all of the joys of new discoveries and also the devastation of oppression and restrictions for the ‘I just want to be me’ teen spirit. The 1998 Tony Award winning Broadway version of the 1984 movie, “Footloose,” about a big-city boy who brings the joyous power of dancing to a restrictive small town, is currently in production at the Palm Canyon Theatre, in Palm Springs. The stage adaptation is by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie, with music by Tom Snow and lyrics by Dean Pitchford, based on Pitchford’s original film screenplay, with additional music by Eric Carmen, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins and Jim Steinman.
It tells the tale of Ren McCormack (Bobby Burkich), the Chicago teen who is forced to move with his mother Ethel, (Cheryl Hunter,) to the small town of Bomont after they are abandoned by Ren’s father. Bomont is an oppressive, cult like small town that has outlawed dancing and just about any other type of pleasure that a teen might be seeking.
Ren soon realizes that it’s his job to bring music back into the lives of these deprived teens. It is of course Ren’s job as the teen protagonist to rebel against such restrictions. Veteran actor, John Lawson, takes on the role of the oppressor, Reverend Shaw, who uses religion like a sword to cut down anyone who opposes him.
This show is filled with classic, well-loved songs that I had completely forgotten originated in the film. “Holding Out for a Hero,” “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” “Almost Paradise,” not to mention the title song “Footloose,” which is bound to get most bodies in motion.
The song that most resonated for me was Vi Shaw (Adina Lawson) and Ethel McCormack’s, “Learning to Be Silent.” I’ve not heard much ever mentioned about this particular song. It is a tragic song, beautifully performed by two talented actresses and for me, it seemed to embody the fate of many whose voices fall silent in the face of oppression, including these two characters who allow the men in their lives to dictate obedience.
Michelle Bachman portrays Ariel Shaw, the daughter who is counting down the days until she can make a break for it, meanwhile dealing with a bully boyfriend because that is what she has learned women are expected to do. I’d like to believe this type of religious and sexist oppression is a dated premise of the past, but unfortunately it’s not and much of it can still be seen in some aspects of our culture today. Which is what makes this story still so relevant.
Footloose is a powerful story that can get lost in the midst of the teen angst, but it resonates across the ages and it is the teens whose rebellious natures ultimately pushes back against the oppression. Theatre is intended to make the audience think, feel, react. And Footloose is definitely a piece that will make you do all three.
The Ensemble cast in this show really strut their stuff under the direction of Shafik Wahhab, as he masterfully weaves together this large cast to tell the tale. Jacqueline LeBlanc has become one of my favorite choreographers, having seen her previous work; her creative and artistic dance direction is the highlight of the show.
Footloose, is a play for all ages. And per usual, Palm Canyon definitely knows how to do quality productions. Footloose is not a favorite, but it is thought provoking and damn good theatre.
Footloose, is currently in production at the Palm Canyon currently in production through July 17th, at the Palm Canyon Theatre, located at 538 North Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs.
For Reservations: Box Office: 760.323.5123 – www.palmcanyontheatre.org
Dee Jae Cox, is a playwright, director and producer. She is the Cofounder and Artistic Director for The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project and the host of the hit radio show, “California Woman 411.”