Marriott's rousing 'Footloose' can't quite make up for musical's so-so source material

“Footloose” - ★ ★ ½

There is a lot of great talent onstage for “Footloose,” now receiving its first revival in 14 years at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. But there's also a nagging feeling that much of that talent is being wasted on a second-tier show that tries too hard to build upon its so-so source material.

Now the 1984 film “Footloose” seemed like it would have been a natural for its 1998 movie-to-Broadway musical adaptation. It's got strong brand-name recognition, plus the film is already packed with catchy pop hits like “Almost Paradise” and “Holding Out for a Hero” that still get heavy rotation on oldies radio stations and as background music at supermarkets and doctors' offices.

Ren McCormack (Aidan Wharton) defies a small-town ban on dancing in "Footloose," now on stage at Lincolnshire's Marriott Theatre through Sunday, June 2. Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Marriott Theatre

But much of that 1980s nostalgia for “Footloose” is really more for its Top 40 music and its breakout star Kevin Bacon. It's not so much for the film's silly plot. Remember? It's the one about the fictional and geographically vague small town of Bomont where there's a law against dancing.

Director Gary Griffin's energetic take on “Footloose” for the Marriott starts promisingly enough. Media designer Liviu Pasare utilizes two big video screens showing road signs mentioning late Chicago Mayor Harold Washington before switching to the nightclub Medusa.

Ren McCormack (Aidan Wharton), center, leads the small town youth in challenging a ban on dancing in "Footloose," now playing at Lincolnshire's Marriott Theatre. Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Marriott Theatre

That's where we first meet the singing and dancing teenager Ren McCormack (Aidan Wharton). Ren breaks the bad news to his club friends that he and his newly single and jobless mom, Ethel (Heidi Kettenring), have to move in with her sister's family in Bomont in order for them to get back on their feet.

But rather than being embraced in Bomont, Ren and Ethel are largely ostracized for being big city outsiders. They're also stifled by the religiosity of Reverend Shaw Moore (Jim Stanek), who has a grip on the ever-watchful townsfolk (as vividly detailed in the song “Somebody's Eyes”).

The reverend's daughter, Ariel (Lucy Godinez), standing on table, leads the company of Marriott's "Footloose" in the song "Holding Out for a Hero." Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Marriott Theatre

So of course Ren has to rail against Bomont's ban on dancing, while also picking up a love interest with Rev. Moore's rebellious daughter Ariel (Lucy Godinez). Meanwhile, Rev. Moore's wife, Vi (Johanna McKenzie Miller), slowly and patiently tempers her hard-line husband for the inevitable happy ending.

Where “Footloose” largely works is with its big production numbers tied to hit songs from the film. Choreographer William Carlos Angulo has a rousing time with the game cast, especially in the country club number “Let's Hear It for the Boy.” That's when Ariel's talkative friend Rusty (Monica Ramirez) cheers on laconic hayseed Willard Hewitt (Ben Barker) as he breaks free from his two left feet.

The rest of the newer songs added by composer Tom Snow and lyricist Dean Pitchford don't hold a candle to the already established film hits. Which is too bad because they're all included to try to flesh out more of the stock characters in this stage adaptation by Pitchford and Walter Bobbie.

Reverend Shaw Moore (Jim Stanek) sings "Heaven Help Me" in "Footloose." The 1998 Broadway musical inspired by the 1984 film returns to the Marriott Theatre through Sunday, June 2. Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Marriott Theatre

Just as the script refuses to specify which state the small town of Bomont is located, Anna Wooden's costume designs don't quite pinpoint the exact point in the 1980s when this “Footloose” is set. For example, Ren wears Velcro-strap high-top sneakers typical of the early '80s, while other characters sport acid-washed jeans and sweater vests that spilled over into the 1990s.

So if you're looking for general nostalgic 1980s fun, “Footloose” should fit the bill. The Marriott's revival is filled with rousing moments and strong performances all around. But it can't quite conceal that it's despite the material the cast and crew is working rather than because of it.

<b>Location:</b> Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, (847) 634-0200 or

<b>Showtimes:</b> 1 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. Thursday (with select 1 p.m. matinees), 8 p.m. Friday, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday; through June 2

<b>Running time:</b> About two hours and 20 minutes with intermission

<b>Tickets:</b> $50 to $60, excluding tax and handling fees; senior and student discounts available

<b>Parking:</b> Nearby free lots and paid valet service available

<b>Rating:</b> Some profanity and sexual gestures, but largely for preteens and older

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