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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘Footloose’ has all the right moves

Published: March 23, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.

It’s always a risky venture when you stage a show as familiar as “Footloose.” After all, the 1984 Kevin Bacon movie has long been a part of our pop culture lexicon, and a remake appeared just last fall. As it turns out, this risk pays off handsomely for the Hillel Theater Group (HTG), which is staging a lively and engrossing musical version this weekend in the Shapiro Campus Center.

When native Chicagoan Ren McCormack (Brett Torres ’12) finds out that his newly single mother (Bethany Adam ’15) wants to move to the tiny town of Bomont, he’s a little hopeful. After all, maybe Bomont will be the kind of mythical tight-knit community where everyone accepts everyone. Yet even he has to admit that his old friends have a point when they ask: “Bomont? Where the hell is Bomont?”

Unfortunately for Ren, Bomont is less than hospitable. When Ren and his mother move in with his stuffy uncle Wes (Ben Rifkin ’12) and aunt Lulu (Viktoria Lange ’13), uncle and nephew quickly clash; Wes goes so far as to slap Ren. The rest of the town doesn’t treat Ren much better—to them, he’s just a big city hooligan.

Things get even more heated when Ren challenges one of Bomont’s most arcane laws: a ban against public dancing. A few years before, four teenagers died in a tragic car accident after leaving a local dance; things have never been the same since. Though the other Bomont teens join Ren in protesting the law, they face stiff resistance, particularly from Reverend Shaw Moore (Harrison Webb ’12), the man who originally proposed the law. The situation becomes even more complicated when Ren finds himself increasingly attracted to the reverend’s headstrong daughter Ariel (Katrina Michalewski ’15).

This musical incarnation of “Footloose” is an absolute blast to watch, but it really requires a great group of actors. Thankfully, HTG’s production—which was directed by Jade Sank ’12 and Aliza Sebert ’12—has brought together an ensemble that clicks perfectly. No matter how big or small the role, everyone has presence.

As Ren, Torres doesn’t miss a single beat. Every aspect of his portrayal manages to convey a perfect blend of brashness and soul, and his voice is simply spectacular. Upon leaving the auditorium at the end of the show, everyone I encountered used the same word to describe his performance: “Wow.”

Michalewski is a great match for Torres. Ariel constantly embroils herself in conflict, and Michalewski communicates all the messy emotions that lurk beneath the surface. Like Torres, she’s a persuasive singer; their duet “Almost Paradise” elicited the loudest cheers on opening night. At times it proved difficult to make out what she was singing during this inaugural performance, but it was a minor hiccup.

Webb infuses his reverend with the expected fire and brimstone, but he always projects a human quality that ensures he never becomes a stock figure. As the reverend’s wife, Sarah Brodsky ’15 boasts the single most beautiful voice in the production.

Nick Petrocchi ’12 provides the show with memorable doses of comic relief. He plays Willard Hewitt, a hayseed with a heart of gold who ends up becoming Ren’s best friend. Replete with a drawl and an awkward gait, he never fails to elicit laughter when he appears onstage; it doesn’t hurt that Willard’s self-conscious courtship of Ariel’s best friend Rusty (Nicole Wittels ’15) is totally endearing.

Of course, a musical is nothing without dancing and … well, music. Choreographers Beth Green ’12, Danielle Zipkin ’12 and Tara Loeber ’14 succeed in what must have been a daunting task, namely coordinating the movements of such a large cast. Meanwhile, music director Ben Oehlkers ’12 leads an orchestra that enlivens the show.

“Footloose” admittedly doesn’t touch on anything especially complicated—censorship, maybe—but it’s all about how it is impossible to be young and not do something utterly irrational like dancing. It’s about having fun, and HTG’s “Footloose” is above all else fun. Go see it.