As the new theater season gears up, a few popular shows are closing, including Footloose, at BDTStage, and Vintage Theatre's Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune. Keep reading for our capsule reviews of these shows as well as Murder Ballad, which just opened at Edge.
Footloose. The story of Footloose was originally inspired by the first-ever prom held in Elmore City, Oklahoma, in 1980: Dancing had been prohibited there since the town’s incorporation in 1898; half the kids attending the prom didn’t even know how to hoof it. Ren, a Chicago teenager who loves to dance, relocates to Bomont, Georgia, a rural backwater, with his mother after his father abandons them both. Miserable and out of place, he’s horrified to find out that no one is allowed to dance. Dancing has been forbidden since four drunk and stoned teenagers died driving home from a dance a few years before. Of course there’s a fire-and-brimstone minister, Reverend Shaw Moore, and of course he has a lovely and rebellious daughter, Ariel, who longs to escape the place. The story is full of stereotypes: Ariel has a trailer-dwelling boyfriend, Chuck Cranston, who hits her, and also a lusty, fun-loving and fun-starved girlfriend, Rusty. Rusty likes farm boy Willard, who can’t dance a lick. Every adult in the place is a stiff-necked prude except for Moore’s wise wife, Vi, and Ren’s compassionate mom, Ethel. No one can possibly doubt that the Reverend will relent before the show’s end and Ren will have everyone dancing like crazy. There are a few glitches to this production. The sound needs to be fine-tuned; it’s often distractingly loud. And while Jean-Luc Cavner, who plays Ren, is charming and appropriately light on his feet, he lacks the dangerous, seductive cool that could convince a group of highly conventional kids to break with tradition, challenge authority and kick off their Sunday shoes. Still, there are also terrific moments and a slew of great songs: “Footloose,” “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” “Mama Says,” “Almost Paradise,” “Somebody’s Eyes.” There’s also one transcendent and astonishing moment — when Rae Leigh Case, tiny, lithe and almost impossibly strong, twirls dizzyingly on a rope above our heads. Director-choreographer Matthew D. Peters has assembled a large, lively and attractive cast, the dancing goes on almost nonstop, and ultimately you can see why the town succumbs. Presented by BDT Stage through September 3. 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, bdstage.com. Read the full review of Footloose .
Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune. Frankie and Johnny work at a greasy spoon in New York. He’s a short-order cook and she's a waitress. When we first encounter them, they’re having passionate sex in the dark. Which leaves us, the audience, in the dark, too, listening to moans, yelps, murmurs and ecstatic exclamations that go on for some time. No sooner has the action ceased and some light come up on stage than Johnny bursts into loud laughter and, under Frankie’s questioning gaze, relates a dumb, unfunny anecdote about having once farted while trying to impress a girl. We discover that the two are on their first date and have just returned to Frankie’s grubby apartment after a disappointing movie and a bad dinner. What follows is the getting-to-know-each-other dance that almost all couples engage in at the beginning, but here it’s particularly complicated. Johnny is a strange, twirling, gesticulating, over-the-top character. He’s already convinced himself that Frankie is his soulmate, and he wants to marry her and have children together. She likes him well enough to consider a second date, but for the moment she just wants him to leave so she can have a glass of milk and watch television in peace. There are some depths to Terrence McNally's 1987 script, and some pleasures. The dialogue is clever and humanistic, seesawing between comedy and pathos. The action is daring and original — and it does feel good seeing a play that assumes we’re all grownups. As the title suggests, there’s a strong streak of romanticism here. Johnny quotes (or misquotes) Shakespeare. Both respond emotionally to music, in particular when a late-night disc jockey who’s been asked by Johnny to play the most beautiful piece in the world, actually responds, coming up with Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.” But though the first act is entertaining, there really isn’t enough going on to sustain an entire evening, and partway through the second act — the couple is still together, still sorting out their feelings — things become static. Fortunately, they're kept alive by the strong performances of real-life couple Andrew and Kelly Uhlenhopp, under the direction of Missy Moore. Presented by Vintage Theatre through September 4, 1468 Dayton Street, Aurora, 303-856-7830, vintagetheatre.org. Read the full review of Frankie and Johnny.
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Murder Ballad. The Edge Theater Company has never staged a musical during its six years, nor has Edge artistic director Rick Yaconis ever directed one — until now, when Edge is roaring into the new season with a scintillating, pop-rock work called Murder Ballad. This isn’t a standard musical. The small-scale, sung-through offering isn’t charming, nor does it feature big, fake smiles, happily dancing feet or love songs. The story is pretty much a cliché: Sexy Sarah has a passionate relationship with bar owner Tom. They break up. She finds solace and marital stability with gentle, responsible Michael, and the couple, along with their child, Frankie, live a peaceful, stable life in an Upper West Side apartment. But then, bored with the routine of daily life, Sarah finds her way back to Tom’s brawny arms. The story of a woman torn between a masculine stud and a kindly husband is a staple of every kind of genre, from cheap romance novels to Westerns to folk ballads. What makes this show electric is the knowledge conveyed by the title and confirmed early on by the Narrator that someone is going to die — which means we spend the entire evening in a state of mild titillation, wondering who. While the three lovers wallow in passionate song about their emotions, the Narrator provides the thread that keeps things going, as well as an ironic commentary that reminds you that this is a story. The Narrator seems a metaphorical figure, a mocking gremlin rather than an actual woman, though we eventually learn that she is flesh and blood. The running time is just 85 minutes, the space is so intimate that we all seem to be breathing the same air, and even though the characters have little depth and the plot is obvious, that raucous, high-energy (though far from memorable) score propels us from moment to moment. Yaconis deserves all kinds of kudos for this terrific cast. Also for the fact that he, along with musical director Jason Tyler Vaughn and sound designers Kenny Storms and Tom Quinn, have fitted the music so perfectly to the venue. Most of all, he deserves credit for a willingness to challenge himself and experiment, in the process presenting some of the most intriguing work around to local audiences. Presented by Edge Theater Company through September 25, 1560 Teller Street, Lakewood, 303-232-0363, theedgetheater.com. Read the full review of Murder Ballad.