Nov 25 2009 by Andrew Livingstone, Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser
PRESENTING the Scottish amateur premiere of the stage version of an iconic Hollywood movie is a lot to live up to for a local operatic society.
It is therefore to Airdrie and Coatbridge Operatic Society’s great credit that they managed such a task in the case of Footloose, the Musical, at Caldervale High School theatre, with apparent ease.
It is to their even greater credit that they did so, not as their main annual show with the full unbridled resources of the society behind them, but as their summer show - their secondary show of the year - although it certainly didn’t take second place in terms of quality.
Following the story of the film, the story followed the arrival of teen rebel Ren, who arrives from Chicago with his mother to stay with her sister’s family in the repressed town of Beaumont.
The town has the shadow hanging over it of a car crash five years previously, when four local teenagers died on their way home from a dance.
One of the victims was the son of the charismatic local preacher, Rev Moore, whose grief moves him to persuade the local council to ban dancing in the town.
Horrified at this denial of what he sees as a basic part of teen life, Ren incites the local youth into rebellion, speaking passionately against the ruling and eventually forcing the Reverend to confront the fact that he has abused his position and allowed his personal pent-up sorrow to dominate the lives of the townspeople.
This central confrontation between Ren and Rev runs throughout the story and was perfectly handled by Craig Carter and Andy Smith respectively.
Craig took Ren on a gradual journey from cocky smart-mouthed teen, reacting against the world because of his feelings on rejection due to his father walking out on the family, to a passionate youth who discovers how to channel his fervour to speak powerfully for a cause... and gave us a fair showing of his singing and dancing talent along the way.
Likewise, Andy portrayed perfectly the transition from unbending tyrant to humble preacher and bereaved father, although in his character’s case the change was sudden, with Ren’s relentless enthusiasm for his case eventually causing the Reverend’s barriers to come crashing down.
The contrast in Rev Moore of man of iron will and anguished, repentant and kind man of God was sensitively played by Andy and the confrontation scene where Ren’s irresistible force climactically meets Rev Moore’s immovable object was the acting highlight of the show.
Behind these two parts were strong women: In the Reverend’s case, there was his wife, Vi, played by May Wakely with compassion and understanding; while Ren was blessed with two doses of female attention - his mother, Ethel, for whom Helen McAleer perfectly created a sensitive character with a steely core, and his love interest, Rev Moore’s daughter, Ariel, captured in all her wild rebelliousness and hidden anguish by Christine McGarrity.
Casting an ominous shadow over Ariel was her boyfriend, Chuck Cranston, played with such successful menace by Grant Johnston that the audience were intimidated, never mind poor Ariel.
An antidote to his air of violence was provided by Kris Morrison, as the hapless but endearing William Hewitt, who took the comedy part offered to him and attacked it with relish, serving up a series of laughs with, in particular, his attempts to learn to dance in an out-of-town dance hall.
The support he provided as a friend to Ren was mirrored for Ariel by Rusty, played by Jeni Mills, who extracted all of the humour provided to her character to great effect.
She in turn was supported by Lynsay Walker and Wendy McPike as Urleen and Wendy Jo respectively, who again wrung the laughs from their roles - as did two more sidekicks, Chuck’s companions Travis (Gavin Hawkins) and Lyle (Craig Murdoch).
A series of smaller parts added colour and depth to the story, with each actor bringing enough to define their character without over-playing the performance.
Successfully striking this difficult balance were Bill McCloy (Principal Clark, with an extra cameo as country-and-western singer Cowboy Bob thrown in for good measure), Stephen McDonald (Coach Dunbar), Jacquie Stewart (Eleanor Dunbar), Steve Taylor (Wes Warnicker), Moira Paterson (Lulu Warnicker), Lesley Anne Brown (Betty Blast), Susan Campbell (Sue-Ellen), Aimee McGuiness (Bobby-Jo), Katrina Costello (Billy-Jean), Country Kickers Pamela Dormer and Lynn Stewart, and townspeople Laura McAleer Harvey, Vhari Eaton and Wendy Hannah.
Choreographer Lisa Kennedy produced imaginative and, at times, intricate dance moves for principals and chorus that utilised the talents of each and more than once left the audience feeling breathless just watching the energetic but step-perfect routines.
The musical director had the enviable task of working with songs written by the likes of Jim Steinman, Eric Carmen, Sammy Hagar and Kenny Loggins - and did every one of them justice.
Keeping the show zipping along at a pace that was in keeping with the energy of the US teenagers portrayed on stage was producer Ronnie Mackie, and if this fantastic night’s entertainment was any indication of the society’s talent operating on a reduced basis as far as cast and timescale are concerned, then roll on their next main production in the spring when they ‘cut loose’ with Singin’ in the Rain.