Schonell Theatre (Ignatians Musical Society)


It was a night about conservative values and the suppression of youthful exuberance. No wait, that was the re-election of the Howard government.

All right, so I had to start with a bit of near political satire. But the musical Footloose, based on the 1984 movie of the same name, is all about the clash between a conservative older generation and their Wild One free teens. But that’s only if you look too closely. Take Footloose by its glossy, spangly exterior, and it’s about fighting for your right to party.

I’d only just come back from an overseas holiday when the editor of Stagediary asked if I would review Footloose. Sure, I said. Any musical that features a number by Kenny Loggins has got to be worth a view. I did have my doubts though because (cue guilty secret music) I’ve never seen the original 1984 movie starring a buff Kevin Bacon. I know, I know. But I was a wee young’un, not ready for Kev’s moves.

After the curtain went up, I realised I would probably never be ready for Kev’s moves. It has to be said, and I’m sure Ignatians will agree with me, that Footloose is cheesier than a weekend in a French cheese shop eating cheesy cheesy cheese. Young teen Ren (Matt Fennell) moves with his mother Ethel (Sara Reynolds-Sly) to the small American town of Bomont after their father runs out on them. Bomont is virtually run by the moralistic preacher Reverend Shaw Moore (Richard Murphy), and dancing in public is forbidden. Plucky Ren refuses to stop doing his groove thang, and starts a movement to lift the ban, while at the same time falling in love with the Reverend’s a-little-bit-too-worldly daughter Ariel (Michelle Matthews). Will the town’s teenagers succeed in their mission to be able to tango, cha-cha and boot-scoot freely? I won’t tell, but rest assured Kenny Loggins is involved.

So yeah, it’s cheesy, but that shouldn’t reflect badly on Ignatians. You’ve got to hand it to them. As far as musicals go, Footloose isn’t spectacular. But the dedicated and bouncy cast turn it into a fine night out. The Schonell is a gorgeous theatre and they use the space well, with clever set pieces, ceiling drops and good lighting. The energy and enthusiasm of the cast is infectious, and you can’t help toe-tapping along to some of the jazzier numbers, like “I need a hero” and “Let’s hear it for the boy” (RIP Laura Branigan).

In terms of performances, Matt Fennell is big of smile and quick of toe, and makes a fine Ren. He even looks a bit like Kevin Bacon. Sara Reynolds-Sly is good as Ethel, but I felt she was too young to really be his mother. Richard Murphy is a totally convincing Reverend Moore his singing voice is great and his mid-west American accent probably the best of the lot. Michelle Matthews is fine as his emotionally distant and wilful daughter, also with a lovely voice. But my favourite was Craig Anderson as Ren’s country bumpkin friend Willert. He’s just brilliant, playing the comic relief part to perfection. The romance between Willert and Ariel’s friend Rusty (a Ellie-May-esque Heidi Robinson) is a sweet side story, and Willert’s instructional song “Mama says”, performed with a group of line-dancing kid cowboys, is the musical highlight for me, and judging by the huge cheer, the crowd as well.

The supporting cast also do a great job, most particularly Danika Saal and Lucy Ivers as schoolgirls Wendy Jo and Urleen, and Kerrie Lange as Vi, the Reverend’s wife. She and Ethel have a lovely duet of sorts in “Learning to be silent”. However, I felt some of the older members of the cast looked a bit out of place. They’re supposed to be stiff and staid teachers and parents in the story, but sometimes it comes across as just being wooden acting. There are some problems with accent continuity and voice microphones, so that may have contributed.

Technically, the show is put together well. The choreography is well-designed by Cathy Gunton, and the cast pull off by some challenging routines. There were times when I couldn’t hear the lyrics over the music, and other times where certain singers drowned out others, but for the most part I was amazed by the professionalism of this community theatre group. I was most certainly jealous of all the talented singers and dancers makes me wish yet again for a good voice and physical co-ordination. The big crowd in on the night obviously shows Ignatians are bucking the trend of small audiences at theatre shows, and proves people will always love a song, a dance and a happy ending.

So if you like your sequins with a good dose of cheese, then Footloose is for you. Congrats to director Suzanne Murphy and musical director Harmony Lentz and Ignatians as a whole for their hard work. Now everybody cut footloose.

— Natalie Bochenski
(Performance seen: Fri 8th October 2004)