Let’s hear it for the boy in Pittsburgh CLO’s “Footloose.” Manuel Stark shimmies and shakes within a degree of Kevin Bacon as Ren McCormack, a rebel with a cause: to reintroduce the joys of dance to a grieving town.
“Footloose” has aged well since its movie debut in 1984, offering a charismatic performance by Mr. Bacon, with songs and roles that have attracted a movie remake and a stage version that spent 2½ years on Broadway.
Taking a cue from the biblical direction “a time to dance, a time to mourn,” it tells of a town that has defined itself by tragedy and is redefined by a young man with a need to cut loose. It features two Oscar-nominated songs, the title tune and “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” that were among a handful of soundtrack gems repurposed for the stage version that hit Broadway in 1998.
Pittsburgh CLO is taking its first crack at “Footloose” this week with Mr. Stark, a dancer for the NBC series “Smash.” He displayed why he’s a go-to guy in that regard with a few wow moments, particularly “I Can’t Stand Still” in which he not only defied the town ordinance against dancing but defied gravity with twirling leaps in the Bomont High hallway.
Ren is a Chicagoan who, with his mother, is uprooted to Bomont, Ga., when his father abandons them. He’s used to letting off steam in the clubs back home but now finds himself suddenly in a town where dance is forbidden by law and under the thumb of the Rev. Shaw Moore, who like his congregants are grieving the loss of four teens who were killed in a car wreck after a rowdy dance party.
When Ren eyes Ariel Moore, the equally rebellious daughter of the preacher, we know we’re in for some relationship fireworks.
As the righteous reverend, Patrick Cassidy could have used a bit more fire and brimstone in the first act; he was better in the second when confronted by a tearful Ren, and both show their vulnerability over the losses they have suffered. It’s the mamas who know best in “Footloose,” and Dee Hoty, reprising her Broadway role as Vi Moore, and Broadway veteran Sally Wilfert as Ren’s mom are standouts. They are the welcome voices of reason in a stubborn crowd and can be heartbreaking, as in the song “Learning to Be Silent,” with Kristen Martin’s Ariel.
“Footloose” is a show made of dancing, of course, and the big numbers seemed to be gone too soon. It’s also a show with beefy roles for sidekicks, a fact fully taken advantage of by CLO newcomers Jesse Hooker as Ariel’s best friend Rusty, and Greg Kamp as Willard, the awkward cowboy who would be equally comfortable in the boots of “Oklahoma!’s” Will Parker.
Tuesday’s opening night saw some shrillness in the first act, when shouting passed for singing in some cases -- perhaps a choice by director/ choreographer Barry Ivan, a case of teens raising their voices to be heard above the voices of dismissive adults. This isn’t a whitewashed version of the show -- there’s a bit of raunch, a few four-letter words and a dose of small-town violence: an abusive boyfriend and adults who put an exclamation on their lectures with a smack.
Mostly, these are people trying to do the right thing, and that’s where Dean Pitchford’s story and lyrics leave you rooting hard for the kids to recapture the simple joys of dancing.
You come to “Footloose” for the heartfelt story, sure, but also to hear toe-tapping tunes such as ”Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” ”Holding Out for a Hero” and “Almost Paradise,” a touching duet by the Ren-Ariel couple at the musical’s center. The bursts of youthful exhilaration on the dance floor, though, are the main attraction, and for that, this “Footloose” left me wanting more.
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960. Twitter: SEberson_pg.