The tricky thing with art — the hard part, if you will — is knowing when to quit. When have you made your point well, and when have you gone too far?
Larry Mitchell’s “Seller Door,” which opened at the Lawrence Arts Center on Friday night, doesn’t quite hit that sweet spot between not enough and too much. Thoughtful and clever, it nevertheless goes too far in its attempt to comment on how we allow ourselves to be duped and the consequences we pay for it.
The play is divided into two very different acts. In the first, we meet a Barker (Jay Maus), who is tasked with getting people to go through a red door onstage. Much of his dialogue is directed at the audience, breaking the fourth wall and bringing them into his confidence as he relates to us the challenges of his job. The rest is aimed at potential “customers” he attempts to persuade to go through the door, and he receives regular calls on a red, rotary-dial phone from an unseen boss, who is constantly checking on his progress (and never seems satisfied).
The people he meets are all archetypes of folks we meet in everyday life. There is Harold (Jason Keezer), a directionless leisure lover, who seeks some sort of purpose for his life. There are Jack (Jerry Mitchell) and Jill (Monica Greenwood), consummate consumers, who believe everyone else is getting something they’re not. Fiery Allison (Jacqueline Gruneau) protests the door, marching against its existence but hypocritically is drawn to it. Billy (Janette Salisbury) wants to be included but is held back by meaningless restrictions. And Jean (Bryce Ostrom) is a criminal, who we learn used to be a Barker. They all have their own reasons for going through the door, and the Barker alters his sales pitch to each individual to offer the right enticement.
The second act focuses on those who went through, what they find on the other side of the door, and what becomes of them. It’s here that the show’s subtitle, “A Play of Consequence,” becomes meaningful.
The first act is absolutely brilliant. Well-written by Mitchell and perfectly played by Maus, Act I captures the soul of a career salesman. Barker constantly repeats the mantras of his company. “We are not salesman; we are saviors. We’re here to help the people,” he says over and over again when he needs to buck himself up. “A.B.O.: Always be opening.” Barker is a man who has bought into the mission statements of his company, and he wraps himself in them like a security blanket, even if he is not entirely certain what he is selling.
During down periods between customers, he fires off one tongue-twister after another to keep his patter warmed up and ready to go. He obsessively sweeps the stage, keeping his selling area clean and presentable, so there is never a barrier to making that sale.
And haunting him throughout the act is the specter of his quota. He must get five people through the door today. The calls from his boss scare him. As the day winds on and he is coming up short, desperation sets in. He becomes more agitated, less confidant, more worried.
Maus is terrific in the role, expertly capturing the essence of every commission-based salesperson feeling the pressure to make quota. The mantras and verbal exercises are weapons in his war against despair. He gives himself pep talk after pep talk, so he’ll have the energy and the faux confidence necessary to close that next sale.
It’s unfortunate that “Seller Door” isn’t a one-act play. Mitchell raises all the questions he needs to with this frenetic story of a salesman just trying to get people to buy.
In the second act, Mitchell makes the mistake of showing us what’s beyond the door. We find out just what each of these rubes has bought. Naturally, it’s nothing good, and Mitchell has constructed a nice homage to Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit.” To his further credit, he leaves the biggest questions unanswered: who is the mysterious boss and why does he want people to go through the door in the first place?
But one wishes Mitchell had realized the strength of his play is on the outside of the door, not within. He’s trying to make a point about the consequences of falling for a sales pitch without careful investigation of the product, but he doesn’t need to show us why the product was a lemon. It’s obvious from the narrative of the first act.
Maus’ Barker is afraid of his boss. It’s not just the potential of being fired for not making quota. There is something sinister about the unseen and unheard voice on the other end of the line. We get that going through the door is akin to Eve eating the apple in the Garden of Eden.
Barker will say anything to sell his product. He tailors his patter to his customers, telling them whatever he thinks they need to hear to buy. As soon as he’s got them through the threshold, he slams the door in their faces, making sure they can’t reconsider at the last second. He’s clearly unethical. He knows there is tragedy on the other side of that door.
And that’s all we need to know. The horror of what’s happening, the lesson of being more discerning before buying in, is greater when we don’t know what becomes of the people who go through.
The production is well staged. Mitchell also directs it, and he does a fine job with a simple set, making good use of the tiny Black Box Theater in the Arts Center. The lighting is especially clever in the second act, a fine achievement given there are only four lights hung in the corners of the stage.
Maus’ co-stars render solid performances. In particular, Jerry Mitchell is funny as the not-as-smart-as-he-thinks-he-is Jack, Ostrom is chilling as the too-cool criminal, and Gruneau is strong as the righteous Allison.
“Seller Door” is a thought-provoking piece of original theater produced well. But it falls victim to that often-troublesome obstacle to making great art — knowing when the point has been made.
“Seller Door” continues May 9 and 10 in the Black Box Theater at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 843-2787 or online at lawrenceartscenter.org.
A trip back to World War II through the music of the era sounds like a delightful vehicle for a musical revue. But without any of the actual songs that were popular during the time period, Kansas University Theatre’s production of “Over Here!” feels strange as a nostalgia piece.
Written in 1974, the show, with music by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman (the team behind “Mary Poppins” and other Disney musicals) and a book by Will Holt, was designed as a vehicle for the two surviving Andrews Sisters. Thus, Paulette (Kristen Larsen) and Pauline (Jessica Brink) DePaul are a pair of USO singers looking for their big break, when they are assigned to entertain recruits being shipped via train from the West Coast to New York, where they will embark for Europe.
The duo is convinced they are never going to hit it big unless they can find a third singer to give them that tight, three-part harmony the Andrews Sisters were famous for. Thus, they spend part of the journey recruiting every woman on the train until they at last find soprano Mitzi (Lilly Karrer). Of course, no one realizes she is a Nazi spy, despite her thick, German accent.
Meanwhile, June (Abby Sharp) has stowed away aboard the train to keep her high school sweetheart, Bill (Cale Morrow), company as he travels toward the war. Bill wants to consummate their relationship, since he doesn’t know if he’ll ever see her again, but being a good girl, June refuses, sparking tension between them.
The rest of the cast plays soldiers and civilians in ensemble fashion, with each having his or her own special number that invokes the mood of the time period. The whole thing is woven together by a narrator (Kevin Thomas Smith), who alternates as a drill sergeant, train conductor and civilian relating his memories of the home front.
Production-wise, “Over Here!” is top-notch. Director/choreographer John Staniunas has his students acting, singing and dancing as if they stepped straight out of 1942. At times, it’s like watching an Irving Berlin film unfolding live in front of you. The dance numbers are all terrific, particularly “Charlie’s Place,” which has everyone moving at a frenetic swing pace and features some acrobatic work by its leads, Jaclyn Amber Nischbach and Justin Kelly.
Likewise, Frankie Jay Baker stops the show with an impressive, and at times searing, rendition of “Don’t Shoot the Hooey to Me, Louie,” a song that explodes the quiet racism and troop segregation of the 1940s. Baker is mesmerizing, gliding around the stage in bowler cap and white gloves and using a push broom for a partner.
Larsen and Brink are great as the DePaul Sisters. They could easily be Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen in “White Christmas,” and when they add in Karrer upon Mitzi’s discovery, you’d swear you were listening to the Andrews Sisters.
A 20-piece band recreates the sound of Glen Miller, Benny Goodman and other Big Band maestros. Indeed, the Sherman Brothers do a fine job of mimicking the popular music of the early ’40s. Every song could have been recorded by Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Clooney, or, of course, the Andrews Sisters.
And that’s what makes the show so strange. It’s very deliberately a nostalgia piece. “That’s the way I remember the war,” the narrator says on several occasions. The plot is really flimsy and is constructed largely to evoke memories of things like rationing, “loose lips sink ships,” the nation pulling together and other aspects of World War II America. That usually works just fine as a vehicle to perform the songs of the time period.
But these songs are all original to the piece. They were written in 1974 to give the Andrews Sisters new material. They sound like they could be “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” or “In the Mood.” But they’re not. The show opens with the narrator saying, “Here’s one of the big hits from the time, ‘Since You’re not Around.’” Jake Thede renders it gorgeously with a golden tenor voice, but it’s not a song from the time.
“Over Here!” keeps asking us to remember things we don’t. As a result, it feels like a kind of amnesia. You keep thinking you should know a song you don’t.
In 1974, with the Andrews Sisters onstage deliberately evoking their glory days, it probably worked very well. Thirty years later, one wonders why, if the producers wanted a 1940s nostalgia show, they didn’t just use the actual music from the time period. Consequently, “Over Here!” feels more dated than charming.
Still, it’s no fault of the performers. The actors and musicians embrace the music and schtick wholeheartedly, rendering it honestly and entertainingly. If the goal, though, was to educate young performers on one of American music’s most dynamic periods, it’s a shame University Theatre didn’t choose a piece that featured the actual songs of the day.
“Over Here!” continues May 2, 3, and 4. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m., except Sunday, when it is 2:30 p.m. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 864-3982 or online at kutheatre.com.
An American classic comes to life on the Theatre Lawrence stage in Simon Levy’s adaptation of “The Great Gatsby.” Strong performances, sure-handed direction, and clever sets make for an engaging evening at the theater.
Based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, the play tells the story of Jay Gatsby (Garrett Lawson), a millionaire World War I veteran who throws elaborate parties in 1920s New York. The source of Gatsby’s fortune is shrouded in mystery and rumor, but that only fuels the enjoyment of his events by the Jazz Age partiers he hosts.
The story is told (and in the case of the stage version, narrated) by Nick Carraway (Jake Smith), a Midwesterner who's come to New York to seek his fortune. Like Gatsby, he is a veteran of the war, and that’s instilled a certain restlessness in him. He rents a house next door to Gatsby in the fictional borough of West Egg, and spends time visiting his cousin Daisy Buchanan (Laura Brooke Williams) and her bigoted husband, Tom (Dan Heinz). One senses early on it is a loveless marriage — a fact that frequent house guest Jordan Baker (Sissy Anne Quaranta) confirms quickly.
Jordan is friends with Gatsby too, and the two of them conspire to use Nick to get Gatsby and Daisy together. Gatsby has been obsessed with Daisy since before the war, and they had promised to marry, but Daisy was mistakenly informed of Gatsby’s death.
While the story looks at first to be a romance, it rapidly transforms into a cautionary tale about greed, deception and hypocrisy. Whether you’re familiar with “The Great Gatsby” or not, you can feel the tragic ending barreling toward you with the speed of Gatsby’s flashy, yellow coupe.
This production is easily one of the finest Theatre Lawrence has staged in a long time, and it’s the best show yet to grace its new facilities at 4600 Bauer Farm Drive. The high quality begins with the cast. Four of the five main characters are played by actors with degrees in theater, and their training and talent really shines.
Smith is perfect as the naïve Nick, who gets caught up in the excess of Jazz Age New York and who is manipulated by the others. He is clearly uncomfortable as he watches the action swirl around him. He wants to be a part of it, but it is foreign to his Midwestern values. He cares deeply for Daisy and enjoys Gatsby’s company. He tries very hard to do what they need him to.
This conflict is played deftly by Smith. He never goes over the top with it, and he never gets swept off the stage by the large personalities of the other characters. It’s a strong performance by a talented actor.
Likewise, Lawson captures Gatsby’s smoldering obsession and flim-flam confidence adroitly. Whenever he is not with Daisy, he is the picture of easy success. He smiles, calls everyone "old sport” and floats around the stage as though everything were perfect. But he can barely think when he is with Daisy or talking about her. Lawson manages these two personalities with ease, flipping between the two expertly. It’s a complicated portrayal he never loses control of.
Quaranta is devilish as the scheming Jordan. She manipulates Nick nearly every step of the way, and Quaranta is smooth in her performance, making Jordan likeable enough that we are as drawn in as Nick. When Jordan’s own dark secret comes out, Quaranta makes it unclear whether she was simply cold and calculating or whether she had genuine feelings for Nick. It’s another deft performance in a host of them.
Williams is terrific as the heartsick and conflicted Daisy — trying to act happy while she knows her husband is betraying her; and endeavoring to support Gatsby’s play for her, even when she knows she can’t give herself to him as fully as he desires. Christie Dobson (another performer with a theater degree) is passionate and complex as Tom’s lover, Myrtle, playing skillfully the desperation of a woman who wants more out of life than she’s gotten. And Heinz is both thuggish as the soulless Tom, wounded when he learns Daisy has turned the tables on his philandering.
Jack Wright’s direction is superb. Not only does he pull stellar performances from his cast, he has an innate understanding of how to work Theatre Lawrence’s space. Rather than asking for huge sets to suggest the opulence of Gatsby’s world, he instead puts suggestive pieces onstage: an armoire filled with fine men’s shirts of every color, a giant staircase, a few pieces of furniture and a drink cart. All of these evoke the character of the places they represent without impairing sight lines on the theater’s giant thrust stage.
Clever use of projections by Phillip Schroeder also suggest place without being overly distracting — a country road, looking out on the harbor, golden statues in an elaborate garden. When Gatsby’s car comes rushing down the road in the second act, we see it from head on — just the headlights zooming toward us. It’s a nice piece of technical wizardry, and Wright and Schroeder deserve praise for its staging.
Another excellent technical aspect of the production is the score. Chuck Berg wrote original music for the show, which is mixed in with recordings of actual pieces from the period. Berg’s soulful saxophone underscores many of the key scenes, and it adds a flavor and character that really brings the story to life, lending it a depth many plays don’t have.
“The Great Gatsby” is an extremely ambitious production, and Theatre Lawrence pulls it off with aplomb as a result of bringing in talented, highly trained actors and a director with great vision for a rich, complex staging of an American classic. It is one of the highlights of the season and not to be missed.
“The Great Gatsby” continues at Theatre Lawrence with performances April 17, 18, 19, 25, 26 and 27. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. except Sunday, April 27, when it is 2:30 p.m. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 843-7469 or online at theatrelawrence.com.
Sometimes, you can reach too far. Such is the case with Kansas University Theatre’s production of “The Other Shore” by Nobel Laureate Gao Xingjian. Surreal, abstract and high-minded, both the play and the production are bold but don’t quite make for a satisfying evening of theater. The show begins with a troupe of 11 actors coming onstage and deciding to play a game. They get ropes and then engage in several intellectual exercises about the nature of relationships symbolized by the connections the actors experience through holding opposite ends of the ropes. It all has a sort of Philosophy 101 feel to it.
Then, becoming childlike, they decide to cross a river to the other shore. They all takes turns imagining different aspects of this river, building their set as they go, placing rocks around the stage. Eventually, the river rages, and they struggle to make it to their destination.
Once they have made it, though, the play transforms into a surreal exploration of the nature of reality. It becomes a series of vignettes that explore individual aspects of how we perceive the world. Each actor takes on various roles making their work onstage as fluid as the action. If you’re looking for a story, you won’t find it in “The Other Shore.” It is quintessential experimental theater — using drama to push concepts. We see loss of innocence and learning to lie. We experience the tyranny of the majority and willful ignorance. Unrequited love, social intolerance of lust, and the suppression of individuality all make their appearances.
The ensemble cast does a fine job slipping from one role to the next. Director Alison Christy pulls fearless performances from all of them. Indeed, University Theatre should be commended for staging this play this late in the season. Most of the actors have held more standard roles in other productions this season, and seeing these recognizable faces take on something as experimental and ambitious as “The Other Shore” is a treat for regular attendees.
The technical aspects of the play are excellent as well. Transitions are flawlessly executed by the lighting crew, expertly directing the audience where to look by bringing lights up and down. Christy makes good use of levels and movement too by having her actors climb large structures, and staging the vignettes in varying locations. She makes full use of the tiny Inge Theatre, making it seem like a much bigger space than it is.
But as well executed as the show is, it still plays like a dramatized version of an Eastern Philosophy class. There is less story than there is situation. As a teaching tool in a classroom, each vignette would enhance a learning environment. Several of them are very powerful.
The first experience on the other shore involves one actor teaching language to the others. As they learn, they discover they can say both nice things and mean things. Eventually, the students kill the teacher — a powerful lesson on how harmful language can be when misused.
In another segment, one actor is told he has drawn a trump card, when he has not. He fights for the truth of what he knows and is tortured by the others until he recants. Gao’s reaction to the Orwellian nature of China’s Cultural Revolution is sharp and clear.
But as interesting and compelling as each of the situations is, strung together they add up to less than the sum of their parts. The play lasts an hour and 15 minutes, but it seems longer. At the end, one of the actors asks the others if they understood what they had just staged. He gets few affirmatives.
As an intellectual exercise, “The Other Shore” is interesting, and it is well staged and performed. But it doesn’t make for a satisfying theatrical experience.
“The Other Shore” continues April 15, 16 and 17. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. in the Inge Theatre on the KU campus. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 864-3982 or online at www.kutheatre.com.
If you didn’t know, Theatre Lawrence’s new production of “Wrong Window” was a Hitchcock spoof when you walked into the show, don’t worry; they’ll make sure you do. The playwrights, actors and director all try way too hard to make the play Hitchcockian rather than relying on the natural laughs that fill the script.
“Wrong Window” adopts a similar premise to Hitchcock’s masterpiece “Rear Window.” Nosy apartment tenants Jeff (Brian Williams) and Marnie (Erica Fox) like spying on their neighbors through their windows. Good friends Robbie (Dustin Chase) and Midge (Alice Dale) like to join in, and everyone is gathering to go out to dinner to celebrate Jeff and Marnie getting back together after a year-long separation.
Before they leave, though, Jeff confesses to Robbie that he had an affair with sexy yoga instructor Lila Larswald (Sarah Bodle) while he and Marnie were separated. Lila lives in the apartment directly across from them, and she and husband Thor (Mark Kramer) are always arguing. A particularly fierce fight right before the dinner date and some barely glimpsed physical action make the voyeurs believe they have witnessed Thor murdering his wife, a scenario they become convinced is true when she turns up missing the next day.
Marnie is a murder-mystery writer and convinces Midge they need to investigate. Meanwhile, Jeff receives naked pictures of Lila in an attempt to blackmail him. The four main characters then become involved in hilarious shenanigans to try to find out what really happened, while making sure the others don’t know what they are up to.
It’s a fine comic premise, and, if it were left to play out naturally, it would be really fun. Unfortunately, starting with the script, the Hitchcock theme is hammered over and over again. Playwrights Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore apparently feel that starting with the basic premise of “Wrong Window” and turning it into a spoof wasn’t enough. Jeff is afraid of birds in an obvious reference to “The Birds” and, when some ridiculous-looking pigeons appear on the window sill, he freaks out. Thus, he will only leave the apartment after dark (when there are no birds).
But that forced motif isn’t enough either. Van Zandt and Milmore heap references to other Hitchcock films all through the dialogue with characters dropping the names of other movies such as “Notorious,” “North by Northwest” and “Dial M for Murder.” Most of these are clumsily forced into the script, and the actors emphasize the references to make sure the audience gets the “joke.”
Director Piet Knetsch takes his cue from this approach, further overemphasizing the source material. Every time the closet door is opened to reveal something dramatic, we get the famous killing music from “Psycho” and red strobe lights. Between the first and second scenes, Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic silhouette is projected onto the back wall and lit in a blood-red wash while we hear the music to “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” Indeed all the music that plays throughout the play is taken from one Hitchcock suspense film after another... including the 20th Century Fox fanfare. It’s overdone and quickly becomes tedious.
Which is too bad, because “Wrong Window” has a lot of genuinely funny moments. The cast in general and the quartet of main characters in particular are outstanding at the physical comedy the script calls for. Jack Riegle’s clever set design lets us see into both apartments and uses the revolve to switch from one to the other. Oftentimes, what is happening behind the characters in the foreground is not only hilarious, the fact that we can see it makes it even funnier.
Travis Privat steals the show as the building’s handyman, Loomis. From the voice he uses, to the delivery of his lines, to the way he moves, everything he does is sidesplitting. There is a particular scene with him that recalls the old Dan Aykroyd plumber sketch from “Saturday Night Live” that is an absolute scream and is one of the highlights of the production.
Likewise, newcomer Sarah Bodle is extremely funny in the difficult role of the murdered Lila Larswald. She spends a lot of time onstage posing as a corpse, which is no easy task. Her expression never changes no matter what is done with her. A bit between her and Williams wherein he is trying to cover up the fact that she is dead in his apartment is another of the comic highlights of the performances.
Overall, “Wrong Window” stirs laughs when it isn’t trying too hard to remind you of its source material. It’s unfortunate so much of the production assumes the audience won’t get the joke.
Take a big city kid, drop him into a small town, add in a generous amount of grief, mix in a classic battle of youth versus authority, and set it all to one of the most popular soundtracks of all time, and you’ve got a recipe for great entertainment at Theatre Lawrence.
“Footloose,” the 1998 musical based on the 1984 film, opened last weekend and runs through Oct. 6, kicking off TL’s first full season in its new Bauer Farm Drive facility. The show tells the story of Ren McCormack (Jacob Coons), a teenager uprooted from his Chicago home when his father leaves his mother (Robin Michael), and transplanted to small-town Beaumont, where dancing is outlawed. The Rev. Shaw Moore (Jim Hurd) lost his son in a tragic accident years ago and has turned the whole town against dancing, pop music, and other forms of “spiritual corruption.” Ren runs headlong into trouble when he attracts the attention of the Moore’s daughter Ariel (Noelle Olsen) and attempts to organize a dance for the senior class of Beaumont High.
It may be a musical based on a 1980s dance film, but “Footloose” is a show about pain, and its cast is unafraid to explore its dark emotions, dragging them out onstage and forcing the audience to confront them.
Like her father, Ariel has tried to lock her grief over the loss of her brother away, channeling it into poetry, wild and dangerous behavior, and dreams of escaping Beaumont to see the world. She falls into a destructive relationship with the sinister Chuck Cranston (a very creepy Christoph Cording), who only wants her for the sexual gratification she brings, and the status of corrupting the reverend’s daughter.
Olsen is smoldering from the moment she steps onstage. She exudes desperation and anger. Her scenes with Hurd, where the father-daughter relationship is disintegrating, are moving and raw. She delivers a yearning rendition of the Jim Steinman/Bonnie Tyler classic “Holding Out for a Hero” in a smoky mezzo that is one of the highlights of the first act.
But as intense as the grief she plays is, Olsen also develops fine chemistry with Coons, who is earnest as he weaves between the frustrated teenager, who can’t seem to figure out the rules, to the voice of reason, who has the answer to the town’s collective problem.
“That never works,” he tells Ariel, when he recognizes she is trying to run away, and Coons delivers the line so sincerely one believes he has tried running himself and knows its futility. His scene where he screams his anguish at his father to a passing train and where he confesses his pain to Moore are gut-wrenching. Both Coons and Olsen are extremely accomplished young actors to be able to give such resonance to complicated emotions.
Hurd struggles a bit with the role of the grief-stricken minister. In the first act, he is a little too staid, a little too calm with all the chaos swirling around the town, particularly his daughter. But in the second act, he is coiled, a caged tiger trying to tamp down his feelings of loss and resist the urge to explode. When he finally unburdens himself angrily to Ren, it is one of the show’s truest moments. Hurd hits the perfect notes of the desolate father, who believes no one can understand what he feels.
But “Footloose” is far from dark. It tackles big, emotional issues of loss, but it is also unabashedly fun. Sam Hay as Willard and Lakytra Hamilton as Rusty very nearly steal the show as the story’s secondary couple. A Theatre Lawrence veteran, Hay gives the best performance of his young career on that stage. His southern accent is hilarious, his comic timing always perfect, and his song “Mama Says (You Can’t Back Down)” shows off his gorgeous baritone and is one of the highlights of the show.
Hamilton is equally engaging as Willard’s would-be love interest Rusty. She commands attention whenever she is onstage, strikes the perfect balance between bubbly, love-struck teen and serious friend, and is the perfect foil to Olsen’s moody Ariel. Hamilton delivers a highly entertaining rendition of “Let’s Hear It for the Boy”, breaking the fourth wall and engaging the audience throughout the song.
Indeed, one of the pleasures of “Footloose” is listening to new versions of familiar songs. Composer Tom Snow deftly arranges the famous soundtrack’s hit numbers so that they capture the essence of the original recordings but work well in a musical setting. In particular, “Somebody’s Eyes” is much more haunting than the original recording, highlighting the difficulty of life in a small town, and “The Girl Gets Around” retains the bad boy sound of Sammy Hagar’s song while still enabling Cording to show off a gorgeous high-tenor voice. New songs blend seamlessly with the old ones, especially “Learning to Be Silent”, a lament by Moore’s wife, Vi (Erin Fox), Ren’s mother, and Ariel.
Director Annette Cook makes good use of Phillip Schroeder’s set. The band is onstage on the theater’s 30-foot revolve, and a second level is built around them. It rotates periodically to give us different settings, often while the band is still playing.
Projections onto a giant screen in the background give us the river where the tragic accident occurred, stained glass windows in the Rev. Moore’s church, and a country bar. The Moores' house is set stage left and rotates to accommodate interior and exterior scenes. The production even uses two of the pews from Theatre Lawrence’s old New Hampshire Street location, which was a church before it was repurposed to a theater in 1984 (ironically the same year “Footloose” is set).
If “Footloose” has a flaw, it is, strangely enough, the dancing. For a show based on a 1980s dance film, there is very little dancing in it, and what there is isn’t memorable. There are some entertaining moments, most notably a country two-step at the top of the second act, but the show’s big production numbers, especially its famous finale, are under-danced.
“Footloose” is, though, a special show. It is that rare adaptation that is willing to part far enough from the original to be something fine of its own. The cast and crew at Theatre Lawrence render it well and launch the inaugural season in the new building with toe-tapping style.