Footloose: Movie or Musical?

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Well, as you probably know, Wauwatosa West recently had another triumph in the theater department with their production of Footloose. This musical is based on an 80’s film in which a big city kid, Ren McCormick, moves to the country town of Beaumont and fights to repeal a law that bans dancing. Footloose was also was recently remade on the big screen. Clearly there’s only one thing to do: review both of these remakes, and see which one re-told the story best.

Footloose: the musical

I should probably start out by saying that, while I think that it’s an okay film, I am not a huge fan of the original Footloose. I felt that although it featured some good dancing and acting, the plot never found a good balance between the drama and the dancing, and there were just some really ridiculous scenes, like the tractor match and Ren dancing out his anger in a warehouse. This is why I was hesitant about how this production would turn out. Well, I’m glad to say that this musical had me right from the first number.

I felt that the story wasn’t just well re-told, but that it was told even better than in the original film. The musical managed to be both funny and dramatic, and had a much better balance between the two. The drama is much better conveyed through the show’s songs, like “Learning to be silent” and “Heaven help me.”

Many things that I don’t usually notice in theater shows, such as the set design, tech work, and lighting, I noticed more in this show, and it was some great work. The choreography was exceptionally good, especially during the many group numbers, such as in the title song’s performances. The best things I noticed in the show were the acting and singing, obviously essential parts of a musical.

The entire cast performed well, from the ensemble to the main cast. I especially thought that the debut performance of Ben Gleason as Ren was well performed, and I look forward to future performances by him on the West stage. All the leading performances by members of the senior class (Will Harrington as Willard, Erin Murphy as Rusty, and Matt Zanton as Rev. Shaw) were done with their usual great acting and singing talents. Some members of the cast who haven’t shown their singing talents before, such as Kylie Hogrefe, did some of the best singing I’ve heard in West Theater.

All in all, I think that West just put on another great musical, thanks to the talented folks in our theater department.

Footloose (2011)

Remaking a film is not usually a good idea, especially if it is a film that was very popular with audiences. Remakes can either stray too far from the original film, or they simply repeat the original film so closely that you might as well just watch the original. The Footloose remake is one of the latter. Now, as I said previously, I am not the biggest fan of the original Footloose, but that at least had a few good things that stood out in it, and made it reasonably watchable. If anything really positive can be said about this remake, it’s that it made me like the original more.

The remake does feature some good dancing and acting, but not nearly as good as the original. In fact, the dancing might be considered too good for this story. Since this town has banned dancing, it is strange that the kids are dancing so well. This is why it probably wasn’t such a good idea to hire professional dancers for the cast.

Acting-wise, the cast does a decent job, except for Dennis Quaid, who barley gives a performance as the reverend. His character has been drastically reduced in screen time and impact in the story, and Quaid’s performance makes him very unmemorable, which is especially bad considering John Lithgow’s memorable performance in the original film, or Matt Zanton’s performance in the recent stage production. Also, the reverend’s wife, who was also very important to the original film’s story, as well as the musical’s, is given even less screen time and is hardly important to the story at all.

The music, which was another well remembered part of the original movie, has been replaced almost entirely with bad cover songs, including a noticeably off-key rendition of “Holding out for a hero”.

The film follows the original story so closely that you might as well just be watching the original. Even all those ridiculous scenes (the standing in front of the train scene, Ren dancing out his anger in the warehouse, etc.) are all present and accounted for. The fact that the remake takes place in modern day only makes them seem sillier.

One major change done to the story has me really baffled. In the original film, Ren faces off with the reverend’s daughter’s boyfriend in a game of chicken with tractors. In this remake, the boyfriend is a local car racer, and Ren faces off with him in a bus race at the local car track. The entire car racing aspect of the story seems completely improbable, given the fact that the town banned dancing after 5 teenagers, including the reverend’s son, were killed in a car accident. Since this car accident, does it make any sense at all that this town has not banned their local car racing, but have banned dancing, drugs, drinking, etc?

In conclusion, this new Footloose comes off as completely unnecessary, and should be treated as such.

Reporter: Tommy Schulz