Nancy Sasso Janis
- OnStage Connecticut Critic
Danbury, CT - Matthew Farina returned to Musicals at Richter this summer after making his directorial debut last summer with his Onstage Critics Award-winning production of ‘Hairspray.’ This year he both directed and choreographed a spirited production of ‘Footloose The Musical’ that opened on Saturday evening under the stars at Richter Park. The scheduled Friday performance was cancelled due to thunderstorms, so opening night had to share the space with some nearby fireworks celebrating July 4th a bit early.
‘Footloose The Musical’ is based on the 1984 film starring Kevin Bacon and tells the story of a teenager who moves to a small town where dancing has been banned after a tragic accident. Mr. Farina calls the musical a celebration of life and admits that it was the high-spirited dancing that originally caught his interest. Now he continues to be inspired by the heart of the story that prompted him to reimagine the show at MAR, and rest assured that his image of ‘Footloose’ included plenty of excellent choreography and many heartfelt performances.
The show began a little early when the teen-aged ensemble members grabbed red Solo cups as they gathered around a table set up in the aisle and staged a summer reunion among the audience members finishing their picnics on the lawn. The contemporary music made it feel very current before Ren and company took to the outdoor stage for the opening number “Footloose,” stunningly staged in black and white and featuring lots of fine dancing by that same chorus.
Other staging strengths included the entire population of the mythical town of Bomont in church filling the pews to listen to the words of Rev. Shaw Moore and then standing in lines behind the trio of girls for “Somebody’s Eyes.” I also liked the way Vi, Ethel and Ariel performed the poignant “Learning to Be Silent.”
The talented Erick Sanchez of Stamford sang and danced beautifully and brought significant charm to the leading role of Ren McCormack, though some might argue that he appeared older than a teen. Sydney Coelho, a rising senior at Hofstra making her MAR debut, sang well as the rebellious Ariel Moore. Alysia Ross did well as Ren’s single mom Ethel.
In the pivotal role of Rev. Moore, Ted Schwartz showed his acting range and sang so well on his solo “Heaven Help Me.” As his wife Vi, the wonderful Priscilla Squiers worked her stage magic. Other adult cast members included Carolyn McCarthy as Lulu Warnicker, Kevin McCarthy as Wes Warnicker, John Armstrong as the high school coach Roger Dunbar, Denise Milmerstadt as Eleanor Dunbar, Barbara Kessler as Betty Blast, and Jack Moreno as the high school principal.
Western Connecticut State University junior Jessica Schwartz was fabulous in the role of Rusty and made me look forward to her entrances. She could not have asked for a better backup team than Carolyn Savoia as Urleen and Bryelle Burgus as Wendy Jo; when the trio sang together, it was perfection.
WCSU junior John Armstrong played Cowboy Bob and WCSU junior Thomas Ovitt did a great job in his MAR debut in the role of Willard Hewitt. Connor Spain was convincing as the bully Chuck Cranston and Jeremy deMelo, Matt Olencki, Ismael Santana, Noah Matson, and Jacob Schultz danced well as the other teen-aged boys. The student members of the ensemble, that included some actual high school students, had to dance well because they included Matthew Farina; the dance captain was WCSU/SHU grad Sara Parille.
Jesse Ofgang was the show’s musical director and played drums in the pit with the five other musicians. The great set was designed by Bradford Blake and the director, and the suitable costumes were designed by the director and coordinated by Lauren Nicole Sherwood. Victoria Meskill was in charge of the motorcycle and car design.
‘Footloose The Musical’ continues through July 16. Remember that sitting on the lawn for two and half hours can get chilly even in the summer, so bring along enough outerwear to keep warm along with your bug spray.