Almost Paradise

Footloose song and dance shines at Playhouse Let’s begin with an important admission. I am all but culturally illiterate when it comes to ’80s cinema and its legacy. Having spent that decade knee-deep in raising kids, my world was one of diaper changes, school activities, Scouts and youth sports. When we did go to movies, such lightweight fare as the Brat Pack genre that included The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Dirty Dancing and Footloose didn’t make the cut. Nor did they seem worthy of a commercial-crammed viewing after hitting the small screen. So you may understand that I’d set the bar pretty low the other night as I settled into my seat for the stage version of Footloose at the Omaha Community Playhouse. Imagine my delight in being able to report that not only did I enjoy it, but also that I now place Footloose in that rare category of “must-see musical.” It’s all just so much fun. Start with splendid performances by Paul Hanson (Blue Barn’s Reefer Madness) and Theresa Fuchs (Creighton’s West Side Story); he as Ren, the big-city boy with a chip on his shoulder who lands in a hick town where dancing is banned and she as Ariel, the preacher’s daughter who acts out against her constrictive surroundings by “getting around.” Add Josh Peyton, who is a hoot as Willard, the dim-witted cowboy who knocks ’em dead in the hilarious “Mama Says.” If stealing a scene were a federal crime, Bailey Carlson would soon be doing a nickel’s-worth in Leavenworth for bringing down the house with her piercing rendition of “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” the drop-dead showstopper of the evening. Speaking of showstoppers, music director Jim Boggess’ rockin’ orchestra, David Catherall’s energetic choreography and John Gibilisco’s rumbling sound design have their moments in the spotlight in this fast-paced, Carl Beck-directed toe-tapper that had me humming tunes all the way home; songs that, oddly enough, I had never much cared for when they were the chart-toppers of an earlier millennia. A quick phone call to one who isn’t an ’80s dullard confirmed the musical follows very closely the original film and that the train scene is found in both. That’s the one that has Ariel releasing her teen angst through a prolonged, at-the-top-of-her-lungs scream in the shadow of a passing freight train. What fans of the film can now experience for the very first time is the deafening, stomach-tickling thunder of the staccato clickety-clacks from the train, a sound effect that now ranks an impressive sixth (coy, aren’t we?) on my list of “Soundman Gibilisco’s Greatest Hits.” Costumer Georiann Regan has the teens clad in the perfect array of leggings, leather and painted-on jeans (Jordache, anyone?) to evoke a Reagan Era that, in many other ways, was anything but footloose. More than just a cotton candy song-and-dance fest — although there is still plenty of sugar in this one — darker themes emerge when we learn the history of how small-town Bomont came to ban all things that even hint at being gateways to sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. “Somebody’s Eyes” may seem at first a harmlessly humorous ode to the fact that there can be no privacy in a community where everyone knows everyone else and everyone else’s business, but a careful listening to the lyrics suggest a deeper, more ominous motif that speaks to the sort of outright oppression that is found whenever and wherever spirit-crushing conformity is king. Those big, big dance numbers that hug the curtain whenever it moves in this two-act delight can force a feeling of sensory overload, so I’ll make it easy on you in devising a viewing strategy for those too-much-to-take-in explosions of fancy footwork. Keep your eye on Courtney Stein. Even amid an exceptionally athletic troupe of youthful hoofers, Stein stands alone whenever she is doing anything more than merely standing alone. Best of all is the chemistry between Fuchs and Hanson in a love affair that culminates in a midnight tryst under a graffiti-splattered railroad trestle poetically dappled by shimmering reflections from water (touché, lighting designer Jim Othuse, touché) that isn’t there. That’s where Footloose was seared into my memory by the title of the soaring duet that can be equally applied as a descriptor of the show itself … “Almost Paradise.” Footloose runs through Oct. 17 at the Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St. Performances are Wed.-Sat. 7:30 p.m., and Sun. 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $40, $24 students. Call 553.0800 or visit omahaplayhouse.com.

posted at 10:33 pm
on Friday, September 24th, 2010

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