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‘Footloose’ brings toe-tapping fun to the Candlelight

There is a sense of silliness that comes when you think of the film Footloose. The 1984 movie—starring Kevin Bacon as a teen who’s just gotta dance—is linked inextricably with the ‘80s, a time where fashion leaned to the extravagant (tight jeans, skinny ties and spiked hair, anyone?) and movies ran a bit melodramatic.

Still, the story of a newcomer who turns a closed-minded community on its head holds up surprisingly well in a stage production. The musical is playing at Candlelight Pavilion through August 27.

The musical’s success is due in large part to a crowd-pleasing score, delivered by a talented cast and accompanied by lively choreography.

There are ‘80s classics like “Holding Out for a Hero,” “Almost Paradise” and “Footloose,” plus original tunes like “Dancing is Not a Crime” and “Somebody’s Eyes,” which helped the musical garner a Tony Award.

Footloose, which made its Broadway debut in 1998, is also enjoyable because it features timeless themes: fractured families, misunderstood youth, young love and the struggle of an authority figure who questions his decisions even as he lays down the law.

Andrew Russell makes his first Candlelight appearance in the role of Ren McCormack, a teen who, in the wake of his father’s abandonment, moves with his mom Ethel from Chicago to the small farm town of Bomont, Georgia. His aunt and uncle have generously offered a place to stay while they rebuild their lives. For Ren, however, who encounters serious culture shock in the hick town, it’s easier said than done.

By mere virtue of being an outsider, he is viewed as a troublemaker by his school principal, by the local Reverend, Shaw Moore—who holds considerable political sway over the town—and by the citizenry at large. His hot-stepping, rock ‘n roll-loving ways don’t help because, in moving to Bomont, he has stepped back in time.

Rock music and dancing are banned by Rev. Moore, played by Jason Webb. If you dare to flout the edict—or to be different or dare to dream—you quickly realize that “Somebody’s Eyes” are watching you.

At the same time Ren is called to a hero’s journey, as one young man working to overturn an entire city culture, we learn more about why the reverend is so against any kind of revelry. He and his wife Vi (Jennifer Webb) had a son who died, along with three of his peers, in a horrific car accident as they returned, inebriated, from a dance.

Both Webbs are affecting as parents who must deal with another child who is alive and hurting while mourning another and need to heal a marriage fractured by pain.

Their daughter Ariel, played by Candlelight first-timer Emily Martin, is grieving the loss of her brother and chafing against the restrictions of her conservative town. Convinced her father can’t see her for who she is, she is eager to wear red cowboy boots, dance, date and express her pain, even if her screams are muffled by the sound of a passing train.

Ren and Ariel become romantically involved, a situation that doesn’t make her boyfriend, local rough-neck Chuck Cranston (Michael Skrzek) happy, but the couple are bonded by their misfit status and desire for freedom.

Every drama benefits from its light moments and these come courtesy of Ren’s interactions with an overall-wearing farm boy named Willard Hewitt (Spenser Micetich).

Willard isn’t the sharpest crayon in the box, but he’s loyal and decent. He sees it as unfair that Ren isn’t being given a chance, and ultimately joins his big-city pal in working to organize a dance at the local high school.

The scene where Ren teaches Willard, stiff and devoid of rhythm, how to dance, set to Deniece Williams’ delightful 1984 hit “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” is an audience favorite. Also popular with the crowd is the dinner theater’s menu, which includes a choice of slow-roasted tri tip, herb marinated grilled chicken breast, marinated mahi-mahi fillet or vegetarian farfalle pasta.

Tickets for Footloose, which are limited in availability, start at $58 for a matinee. For information, visit candlelightpavilion.com or call (909) 626-1254, ext. 1.

The Candlelight Pavilion’s season continues with performances of La Cauge aux Folles September 2 through October 8 and Sister Act on October 14 through November 19.

—Sarah Torribio