'Jukebox Musical' Breezy, Peppy

Published on Friday, 12 July 2013 00:18 - Written by By Stewart Smith ssmith@tylerpaper.com

Tyler Civic Theatre Center needs more productions like “Footloose.”

Tyler’s theater scene has shown that it can, in fact, accommodate multiple production organizations and now it’s time for each to play to their strengths.

As a small outfit (akin to an indie film studio), Theatre 20 @ Potter Place has the vision and capability of producing edgier content that is also smaller in scale. Good for them. That’s what is needed around here. Inversely, TCTC has the means and the staff and reach to do bigger, more mainstream projects, much like (in keeping with the movie analogy) a big film studio would.

What I sincerely hope is that TCTC can maintain the energy that is found in its production of “Footloose” and channel that going forward.

While in years past, organizers have played it safe with a lot of their production choices, the last year or so has shown a good amount of desire to move beyond that, picking shows with big sets (“Noises Off”) and ambitious stories (“The Hobbit”).

While “Footloose” touts neither of those things (its set dressing is minimalist and the story is bubblegum fare at best), it hurtles forward with a driving energy that has been seen in only a few shows of late.

I suppose that’s part and parcel of doing a full-blown musical, though. It’s obvious director Stephen Rainwater got bitten by the musical bug from his time in the cast of last season’s “Bye Bye Birdie” and overall he’s done strong work. Corralling a cast and chorus of this size is rare for TCTC (it’s bigger than their last few shows combined), but Rainwater has managed to channel the cast and chorus’ collective energy into something that really works.

Musicals are a tough thing to pull off. I’m not sure that ever gets stressed enough. The level of choreography and coordination required is borderline impossible at times. It also requires a strong handle on tone. So, the fact that this (or any musical) came together at all is kind of a minor miracle. Thankfully, this is also quite entertaining to boot.

If you’ve never seen the Kevin Bacon-starring original film from 1984 (or the more recent, and wholly serviceable, Craig Brewer-directed 2011 remake), it’s the story set in Bomont, where public dancing has been criminalized. So, when the streetwise Ren McCormack (Nick Gilley), a Chicago transplant who moves to this sleepy little community, he proceeds to turn the whole town on its ear when he begins to challenge authority.

Chief among that authority is Rev. Moore (Mikey Wiseman), whose word is quite literally law and whose daughter, Ariel (Allison Pharr), catches Ren’s eye.

Ren isn’t looking for trouble, exactly, he just can’t seem to understand why the town is so uptight.

It seems downright quaint to think that a town would outlaw something like public dancing, but given the propensity for some towns in the past to outlaw things such as the sale of alcohol (for reasons both religious and otherwise), maybe it’s not too terribly far-fetched. Not that I think Rainwater or TCTC were necessarily trying to be subversive or make a statement with this show, but the parallels in some respects certainly can’t be denied here.

Mostly, though, this is just a fun show to watch. The numbers are breezy and peppy, to the point where you don’t really mind that this is essentially a “jukebox musical,” pulling in singles from the likes of Bonnie Tyler, Sammy Hagar and Kenny Loggins.

Of course, it would be for naught if the cast couldn’t pull off the near-constant singing and dancing, and thankfully everyone here is fairly well-equipped for the demands of the show.

Gilley takes some getting used to as his voice is much deeper than what one might expect, but he makes good use of it and his dance moves aren’t anything to scoff at, either. It’s Pharr who stands out among the principal cast, through, her singing voice in particular, although don’t be surprised if Sarah Smith (as Ariel’s friend, Rusty) steals the show.

Rainwater wisely keeps the ’80s aesthetic with costuming and music, which really helps to drive home a sense of time and place, especially without any real backdrops or set dressing to otherwise establish that sort of thing.

I had a good time with this. As I said earlier, it’s bubblegum fun so there’s not much in the way of thematic depth here, but it’s lively and energetic and it works. Here’s hoping the momentum from this show continues.

“Footloose” continues its run tonight at 7:30 at Tyler Civic Theatre Center, 400 Rose Park Drive.

For additional performance dates or ticket information, call 903-592-0561 or visit www.tylercivictheatre.com.Tyler Civic Theatre Center needs more productions like “Footloose.”