Stunning solos, sharp choreography and superlative acting: this year’s Community Musical Footloose serves as an impressive showcase says Grace Murphy
Any hopes I held for this promising production were surpassed twofold as the feel good factor raised the roof in O’Reilly Hall. Fast-footed brilliance came in the form of main man Conor Nolan as Ren, who frolicked through his lines whilst maintaining an impressive Chicago accent. But his talents don’t stop there – Nolan’s vocals on ‘Raising Paradise’ also raised goose bumps; this man’s musicality is not to be underestimated. Enter Stuart Pollock as the goofy Willard: a comedic gold-mine, as everything from his poise to his timing provided endless comic relief – his performance of ‘Mama Says’ awarded him not one but two rounds of applause from the appreciative audience.
Jackie Hennessy shone as leading lady Ariel, making it difficult to believe that Footloose is her musical debut. She appeared incredibly comfortable in the role, and will undoubtedly continue a career in musical theatre following this success. Hennessy’s rendition of ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ was sung with Ariel’s Greek chorus-style triplet of BFFs, played by Sophie Dobson, Elise Brennan and the vivacious Ciara Murphy. This number was possibly the biggest vocal success of the production, elevating it to another level of professionalism.
Choreographer Rachel Wiseman is to be commended for her vibrant and fun routines, which are exuberant and flashy without being OTT cheesy, a thin line thankfully treaded carefully by the sprightly chorus of Footloose. The simplistic set design works very well – a cast brimming with talent such as this need not be supported with extensive props and yet the design serves to provide the necessary atmosphere without disrupting the fluidity of scenes.
Although Footloose is superficially a showy, jazzy musical; it grapples with issues such as grief, spirituality and belonging to a community – a task the cast carries out beautifully. The fast paced teenage shenanigans are contrasted with the more sombre scenes between the minister and his wife, portrayed delicately by Andrew Deering and Emily Leonard. The two share some credible chemistry and together with Ren’s mother Ethel (Treasa Uí Lídeadha), they interject some poignancy which works well in contrast to the colourful dance numbers.
Homage must be paid to Eoghan McNeill as Chuck, for his impressive portrayal of the ultimate trailer trash boyfriend. He reminded me of one of the greasers from The Outsiders with an uncanny accent to boot. Kudos is also due to Zoe Reynolds (Eleanor/Betty Blast and Cop) who should probably just adopt that accent permanently.
Special attention must also be awarded to the house-band, directed by Bronagh McManus – which gave the show a feeling of authenticity.
Footloose is everything a musical should be – fun, energetic and merry as an episode of Glee.