Theater review: ‘Footloose’ at Asheville Community Theatre

TEEN SPIRIT: From left, Anne Lowell as Ariel, Dillon Giles as Ren, Adam Lentini as Willard and Heather Nicole Bronson as Rusty star in 'Footloose' at ACT. Photo by Studio Misha Photography

It seems just like yesterday that hair was teased sky-high, fashion was flashy and music enticed with a poppy seriousness. Asheville Community Theatre generates a flashback to the 1980s with the fun musical Footloose by Dean Pitchford, Walter Bobbie and Tom Snow, onstage through Sunday, March 3.

When his father deserts him, Ren McCormack (played by Dillon Giles) is forced to trade in the big city of Chicago for small-town life. He brings with him the rock ‘n’ roll spirit, but there’s a local law that prohibits dancing. When Ren tries to insert his opinion, he upsets conservative Rev. Shaw Moore (Jeff Stone). However, the teenagers begin to crave the rebellious fancy footwork, and conflict ensues.

The staged musical Footloose is based on the 1984 film of the same name. The movie’s star was Kevin Bacon. Lacking a major name at the time, he was not the first choice for the role of Ren, but his underdog appeal made Footloose feel edgy and unique.

Likewise, the casting of Giles in ACT’s musical version gives a refreshing take on the character. He’s got a certain charisma that feels dynamic and makes you smile. Giles has great chemistry with Anne Lowell, who plays Ariel, his love interest.

Lowell absolutely owns the role of the reverend’s daughter, and her vocals are splendid. We can tell she is caught between choosing the right or wrong path with bad-boy Chuck (Ryan Miller). Unfortunately, the attractive Miller doesn’t pose much of a threat, and we lose some of the subplot’s suspense.

Heather Nicole Bronson as Ariel’s friend Rusty gives us the spunk of the ’80s. She’s a hoot, and her duet with Marisa Noelle (as Betty Blast) on “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” is a standout. Noelle’s dancing is Broadway-quality. Ariel’s other friends, Wendy Jo and Urleen, are played with moxie by Karyn Panek and Emily McCurry.

In plotlines such as these, there always seems to be a stereotypical country guy. Thankfully, Adam Lentini as Willard does an impressive job. There’s a fun scene where Willard learns to dance, proving Bronson and Lentini make a nice pairing.

This production’s greatest performances are those of Stone as the Reverend and Missy Stone as his wife, Vi. They bring a seasoned reality. Jeff, in particular, rouses a moving revelation in his character. Without his remarkable portrayal, the production would not be as layered.

Directing large casts like this is not easy, and Jerry Crouch once again rises to the challenge. His casting here is off the beaten path. This is a major asset, and one can only hope such unique casting continues to be embraced. The background chorus collectively sparks attention with exceptional performances from Kerry Nolan, Jack Anderson, Ann M. Licharew, Audrey Wells, Kathleen Riddle and Javon M. Brown. Special praise goes to the fantastic retro costume design by Carina Lopez.

Footloose touches most intriguingly on an era when being free and expressing oneself with music and dance was bitterly frowned upon by certain belief systems. This production’s energy-filled performance of “Heaven Help Me” drives the feeling of repression home.

WHAT: Footloose
WHERE: Asheville Community Theatre, 35 E. Walnut St., ashevilletheatre.org
WHEN: Through Sunday, March 3. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m.; Thursdays, Feb. 21 and 28, at 7:30 p.m. $15-30

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About Kai Elijah Hamilton
Kai Elijah Hamilton was born and raised in Western North Carolina. A poet, screenwriter and playwright, he is also a published film and theater critic. Hamilton is a creative individual with a wide range of talents and interests. He is an Award Winning Actor (Tom in "The Glass Menagerie") and Director ("A Raisin In The Sun"). He previously served as Artistic Director at Hendersonville Little Theatre and has a B.A. in theater and film from Western Carolina University. In 2016, Hamilton's play "The Sleepwalker" won a spot in the first annual Asheville National 10-Minute Play Festival by NYS3. His play "Blackberry Winter" was a finalist in the elite Strawberry One-Act Festival in NYC winning Best Short Film/Video Diary. Hamilton is also the author of the full-length southern-gothic play "Dry Weather Wind" which has been called "Important. Relevant to the issues in today's time, and beautifully written..."

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