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Another Good Adaptation For The Stage



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Another Good Adaptation For The Stage

By June April

NEW HAVEN — Try Footloose for an early holiday gift with your teenager. It’s not just fun, it also can open doors for some meaningful discussions about relationships.

Like Grease, Footloose translates well to both stage and screen and invites viewing on both levels. But action is called for: Footloose is only playing at New Haven’s Shubert Performing Arts Center through December 12.

The soundtrack for the 1984 motion picture had several outstanding songs, including “Let’s Hear it for the Boy,” “Almost Paradise” and the title song. The soundtrack album brought two Grammy nominations and two Academy Award nominations for composer/lyricist Dean Pitchford.

Grease has more memorable songs overall, but there is more depth to the story line of Footloose, which delves deeper into substantive human relations. Authority, grieving, rebellion, freedom in academics, parental supervision and abandonment are all touched upon in this production.

But don’t think this is moralistic head-bashing; the audience is being entertained while all this is being explored. It’s possible to take it in on more than one level, or just let it slide by.

The cast at the Shubert is solid, the dancers are just fine and the sets and lighting well done. The second act is stronger, as is often the case with musicals. That Footloose was nominated for four Tony Awards when it debuted on Broadway last year is not surprising, especially because the choreography was so well done. Bravo A.C. Ciulla, a multi-talented person whose interests extend to directing and creating productions. He also shares his skills as a teacher at a couple of schools in the New York City area.

Christian Borle, as the gawky but loyal comic-relief sidekick to the teenage hero Ren McCormick, was most noteworthy. His sense of timing as the character Willard Hewitt is endearing and delightful. The show’s director, Walter Bobbie, clearly has an impeccable sense of balance.

The two mothers, Eileen Barnett as Vi Moore (the proper and sage Preacher’s wife) and Jana Robbins as the abandoned wife Ethel McCormick, tenderly portray the rigors of motherhood and offered a very moving lyrical statement in the song “Learning to be Silent,” written by Tom Snow with lyrics by Dean Pitchford.

This reviewer was also impressed by the ease with which the scenes moved from one situation to another. There was a flow to this production that made it easy to follow.

Footloose is billed as a family musical that deals with teenage rebellion and loss. It is an appropriate show for young (but not very young) children.

Adult roles are really challenged in this play. One could see the parents in the audience were nodding their heads in some scenes, perhaps in empathetic understanding or sympathy.

(Performances continue through December 12 in New Haven. Contact the Shubert box office at 203/562-5666 for performance and ticket details.)

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