SOUTH KINGSTOWN – Artists who danced the night away showed what’s possible when the spirit of Terpsichore allows fleeing feet in the Theater By The Sea’s production of ‘Footloose’.
However, that wasn’t so much the case in the mythical midwestern city of Bomont, Utah, which outlawed dancing.
Destiny sets a collision course between Ren McCormack (JP Qualters) and longtime resident and crusader Pastor Rev. Shaw Moore (Matthew Taylor), who initiates and defends the city-wide prohibition.
Amid all of this, both men are also struggling with the loss of significant people in their lives. Dancing for Ren helps him recover, while Dancing for Moore reminds him of what he thinks caused the loss.
With a heavily choreographed production, dance moves of all kinds instill an uplifting sentiment with a tense narration about a dance ban that keeps reminding audiences of what could happen when the beat stops moving in people’s lives.
Amidst the dance moves, however, are the subtle themes of youthful rebellion, responses to the challenges, and youthful love coming with its own challenges and rivalries.
Stepping back even further invites a look at the pressure that a group of people can exert on any nonconformist and the call to either fight back or surrender.
While some guests bitched about a tired topic during the intermission, others said they found it interesting and a reminder that some problems in life never go away, only get a temporary fix.
Norm Dubois came to the theater from Warwick for the show. “It was a weak story, but they did an excellent job in performing this play,” he said. He also noted that the set design was excellent.
Barbara Bailey of Charlestown came from Wakefield with her friend Deb Petrichko. Both praised the staging and the theatre.
“The show doesn’t matter, they’re always wonderful,” Petrichko said. Bailey said she has season tickets and always finds the performances well done.
“I love coming to the shows here,” she added.
The musical also depicts conflict and connection, entangled, aligned and opposed to various relationships. However, consequences will occur for those who push too hard, and even for those around them.
“Footloose” shows how this can work. As in any good, torrid drama that doesn’t end in Armageddon, the transformation through these unexpected consequences unfolds for Moore and others in ways they never could have imagined.
Bill Hanney, theater owner and show producer, wants these musicals to have a happy ending, something uplifting and a sense of good overcoming bad to make audiences feel when it’s going.
“Footloose” didn’t disappoint in that regard either. Despite Rev. Shaw’s reluctance to dance and the various complex themes of life, love and loss that ensnared him and lead character McCormack, there was much dancing at the end to applause from the nearly full theater.
On the one hand, what could be coincidence, the stage podium appears to be an optical illusion. From the start, an offset frame light arched in what appeared to be an almost crooked square, sloping sharply to the left and then appearing as if the stage had a right slope.
South Kingstown’s Nikki Munroe said during the break: “I like the crooked stage. It catches your attention with the sloping glass windows. There is something behind it. Will it even out in the end?”
By comparison, it also seemed to illustrate a sub-theme of polarization of conservatives like Shaw and his supporters versus liberal fighters like McCormack and his teenage gang. Also a scene that is not so far removed from today’s political theater.
Munroe was right, the stage leveled a little as all the stage lights dimmed and the house lights came on as the curtain closed on everyone – conservatives and liberals alike – dancing and invoking the spiritual and folk song of Americans “Kumbaya” for harmony and unity.
Looking back to the musical’s early days and whether this ancient saga of avoidable conflict could be overcome despite the dissonance of arguments – and even violence, which also makes a couple of appearances in “Footloose,” Rodney King’s oft-repeated phrase springs to mind.
As a riot raged in south Los Angeles, California, he was allegedly beaten by police after a high-speed chase and officers charged him, but later acquitted of brutality against him.
On May 1, 1992, King said, “Guys, I just want to say, can’t we all get along? Can’t we all get along?” It’s a perspective that resonates a lot in this piece, as in today’s society.
Hanney’s choice of a happy ending musical stitched together with these more poignant themes demonstrates as much his powerful show-making ability as his insightful view of the society around him.
His 89-year-old barn theater has a history that has captured much of America’s changing and contested values on and off its stage. It dances to its own beat again.