Wednesday, 13 March 2013



Theatre Run: Tuesday 12 - Saturday 16 March
Performance Reviewed: Tuesday 12 March (Press Night)

Reviewed by Kyle Pedley

Occasionally when reviewing theatre professionally it is easy to lose sight of the passion, energy and aspirations that go in to practically every production regardless of scale, budget or location. Shows can be enjoyed, appreciated and lauded for their achievements, but it can take an experience like this vibrant, upbeat production of Footloose to serve as a reminder of the sense of camraderie, raw enthusiasm and unified excitement that company theatre really seems to celebrate and spotlight.

Featuring a broad spectrum of players of varying ages, backgrounds and theatrical experience, Wolverhampton-based musical comedy company MUSCOM are one of the West Midlands most active, long-running theatre troupes who benefit greatly from association with a terrific venue in the form of the Wolverhampton Grand. With annual performances over the course of their 70+ year history running the full musical gamut including the likes of West Side Story, FAME - The Musical, Oklahoma, Guys and Dolls and even High School Musical, 2013 sees the company of local, home grown talent bring Footloose, based on the 1984 Kevin Bacon movie and, naturally, it’s stage musical adaptation, to the Wolverhampton boards.

In many ways the core tale of Footloose seems a bricolage of almost archetypal themes and ideas - a repressed youth culture, a misunderstood and sidelined ‘new kid’, shadows of a past tragedy and religious duty stifling father-daughter and inter-marital relations. In terms of characters and narrative there’s very little new or original to be found. Having said that, it’s important to remember this is based on an almost 30 year old original movie (which itself inspired a 2011 remake) and, much in the vein of similar recent feel-good romps such as Sister Act, Legally Blonde and 9 to 5: The Musical, Footloose makes no pretence of self-importance or overt social commentary and instead relishes in being a predictable but perfectly fun and vibrant celebration of telling a simple, accessible story in buoyant, toe-tapping style.

The company and it’s talent acquit themselves well with this perfect musical theatre mantra and bring a thoroughly entertaining and energetic version of the show to stage, and, marring one or two minor technical issues with audio and microphones which were quickly remedied, generally reach an impressive standard of artistry and accomplishment in terms of performances and the shows overall design and aesthetic. There is clearly an intent and drive to aim for West End/Broadway standards, ambitious and admirable for a local company, and some of the key sequences, players and set design come wonderfully close, and in places are as professional and impressive as some major touring productions seen.

As mentioned, there is a palpable sense of community and togetherness from an ensemble that spans age, experience and ability, and it lends the production an irrepressible charm and feel-good vibe. It’s difficult to not find yourself rooting for MUSCOM as a company almost as much as the characters they are playing, so infectious is their enthusiasm, vim and zest. And if that sounds remotely trivialising, the cast features some genuinely impressive and capable talent. Holly Stringfellow is a wonderful leading lady as Ariel, nailing accent, vocals and dance moves perfectly and lending her character a tender naturalism. Chris Wolverson tackles what is probably the shows most complicated and interesting character in the conflicted Reverend Shaw Moore with grounded conviction and does a great job of humanising and layering what could have easily become a stereotypically obstinant man of faith. It’s also wonderful to see MUSCOM President Jeremy Hobbs get some scenes as a school principal, his theatre background and experience evident whenever he takes to the stage.

Niamh Allen, Franchesca Fogoe and Claudia Gilmour are perfectly sassy and charismatic as a trio of friends-cum-occasional-narrators, and they share the stage with Stringfellow in one of the show’s most audience-pleasing moments - a girl group re-imagining of Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Holding out for a Hero’ which also features a spirited and amusing involve from some of the male members of the ensemble. Young performer Ben Evans and his group of young female dancers demonstrate some terrific talent and promise, whilst eliciting an audible reaction from the audience, in a burger joint dance sequence, and Rose Lister delivers some lovely vocals as the Reverand’s wife Vi in some of Act 2’s more sedate moments in particular.

However, two of the real standouts of the company are in the shows central male performers. Tye Harris plays the relatively typical role of Ariels jock boyfriend Chuck, and despite a somewhat thankless role that is relatively sidelined towards the end of the show, Harris proves to be one of the company’s real potentials - demonstrating a discipline, physicality and general stage confidence and ability that could, and indeed should, easily translate to the West End or beyond for the talented young performer. Alec White is similarly impressive, and whilst it feels unfair to place such a plaudit on local company productions, he is in many ways the star of the show playing the fool as the bumbling, socially awkward but ultimately endearing Willard. He is certainly aided by the character given, but White does a great job and shows some wonderful comedic instincts, throwing himself literally headfirst at times into the clownish physicality and nature of the role and matching this with some great vocals when he finally gets his moments to shine in the second Act.

In all, Footloose is a jovial, guilt-free and brilliantly typical slice of musical theatre fun. It doesn’t re-invent the wheel or attempt to do anything particularly new, but in places the standards achieved by this local company production are genuinely impressive, and where it may be a little rough around the edges, this only adds to the charm, and it is impossible to not get swept up by the energy and enthusiasm of all involved. Ultimately, the mark of great musical theatre is surely transitioning the many hours of rehearsal, preparation and workmanship into two hours of escapist entertainment, and in that regards MUSCOM’s latest show more than delivers. If you live in or around the Wolverhampton area and are a fan of musicals or just want an unapologetic evening of hearty theatrical fun, then cut loose, foot loose, kick off your Sunday shoes and head on down to Footloose

(A)musings does not provide Star Ratings for Local Productions.

FOOTLOOSE is running at The Wolverhampton Grand Theatre from Tuesday 12 March to Saturday 16 March 2013.

CLICK HERE for more information on the shows' run at the Grand and to book your tickets!
Alternatively phone the Theatre Box Office on 01902 42 92 12.

For more information on Wolverhampton's MUSCOM Musical Comedy Company, visit their website HERE.

Press tickets for this performance of Footloose were provided courtesy of The Wolverhampton Grand directly. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.

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