Wednesday, July 20, 2011

REVIEW: “FOOTLOOSE” BY RIDGE LIGHT OPERA @ PLAYS IN THE PARK, BASKING RIDGE

The energetic opening number presages the success of Ridge Light Opera's Plays in the Park summer production, Footloose. Bill Corson's expert direction elicits terrific performances from the large cast—most of them teens or twenty-somethings—as they sing and perform Beth Amiano Gleason's complicated choreography, moving with agility around the small stage.

imageThe plot is familiar to people who have seen both film versions (1984 and 2011). If you missed either, here's the story line: After his father abandons the family, Ren McClintock and his mother move from Chicago to Bomont, a small town in the West where rock music and dancing have been banned after a tragic accident killed four teens returning from a dance five years earlier. Although he tries hard to fit in, Ren suffers an acute case of culture shock. The only person who relieves his loneliness is the lovely Ariel, daughter of the Bible-thumping minister responsible for the ban, a girl who rebels by dating the town thug. With the senior prom on the horizon, Ren rallies his classmates to overturn the ordinance and free the townspeople from repression. (Above: Samantha Ferrara and Ariel, Lauren Morra as Urleen, Mariella Klinger as Wendy Jo, Alex Corson as Ren, and Jeff O’Donnell as Willard)

Jaye Barre has designed a set that fits multiple uses; the church pews morph into soda shop booths and a train trestle spans two pews. Musical director Marion Doerr uses musical bridges to accompany scene changes so the mood doesn't dissipate. Bill Corson's lighting design directs our attention to various groups who appear on each end of the stage from time to time, and Marylea Schmidt and Eleanor Klinger's costumes recall the 80s and a small town in the middle of nowhere very well.

While there are too many actors to mention (most of them are in the chorus of high school students and townspeople), several stand out. Ren McCormack is winningly portrayed by a grown-up Alex Corson (I remember him in the choruses of many previous shows), who commands the stage whenever he's on it—which is most of the time. He sings and dances extremely well, especially in the jittery "I Can't Stand Still" and his duet with Ariel, "Almost Paradise." As Ariel, Samantha Ferrara is dynamite, from her petulant imagefacial expression and stance to the sadness of  "Learning to be Silent," which she sings with her mother (Joanna Hoty Russell, above) in fine voice) and Ren's mom (Laurie Wood). Their nemesis, Reverend Shaw Moore, is played by Tom Donelan (right), whose tuneful prayer, "Heaven Help Me," makes us feel some sympathy for this man so hardened by the loss of his son that he punishes all the young people in town with his moralistic edicts. Lisa Littman and Ted Roper provide able support as Ren's Aunt Lulu and Uncle Wes.

As for the kids of Bomont, they certainly are a lively bunch, despite being repressed by their elders. Allyson Hern (Rusty), Lauren Morra (Urleen) and Mariella Klinger (Wendy Jo) act like a Greek chorus, commenting several times on the town and its inhabitants, a place where "Someone's Eyes" are watching all the time. Tyler Ableson is appropriately crass and scary as Chuck Cranston, the town thug; he's matched very well by Jeff O'Donnell who plays the good ole boy Willard as a bit dim but with a great heart. He leads the entire company in a rousing version of "Let's Hear It for the Boy," setting everyone's toes a-tapping and making us itch to get up and dance! (Left: Alex Corson as Ren and Jeff O’Donnell as Willard).

imageBy the time the lights go down, by the time the orchestra and singers have sung the last note and danced the last step to the finale "Footloose," you'll have had a grand time out in the hills of Somerset County and learned a few good things besides. Suspicions, repression and no fun spell "trubl," as Willard so succinctly puts it. And as Mrs. Moore tells her husband, "If we don't trust our children, how can they become trustworthy?" A good thought, that!

Footloose will be performed at Pleasant Valley Park on Valley Road in Basking Ridge, next to Veterans Administration Hospital Thursday, Friday and Saturday through July 23. Performances begin at 8 PM and are free, but donations are gratefully accepted. Bring a chair or blanket (and a jacket—the evenings can be cool) and a picnic and get set for an evening of fun.

If you attend the event, tell them you learned about it from the NJ Arts Maven! Subscribe to get free daily updates!