Byham cuts loose

Fans of the ’80s in Pittsburgh now have a reason to “cut loose...footloose!” The musical Footloose opened last Thursday at the Byham Theater in the Pittsburgh Cultural District. Footloose, based on the 1984 movie of the same name starring Kevin Bacon, is the story of a Chicago teen named Ren who is forced to move to a small town called Bomont.

But Bomont is no ordinary small town. Ren is shocked to find out that two of the things he loves are banned in Bomont: rock music and dancing.

These laws date back to a tragic time in the town’s history, when drugs and alcohol led to the deaths of four teenagers in a car crash. The accident inspired reverend Shaw Moore, the town preacher, to enact the bans. Influenced by these laws, the town spends most of its time watching its teenagers to make sure they’re not up to mischief. Ren, the outsider, struggles with this and tries to adjust to the stifling regulations of the town, but he just can’t handle it. As he professes in one of the first numbers of the musical, “I Can’t Stand Still,” living in a town so restrictive won’t do him any good.

And it definitely doesn’t. Ren develops a huge crush on the preacher’s daughter, Ariel, who is too busy being a good girl to even give him the time of day — or is she? The second number of the play, “The Girl Gets Around,” tells the audience that Ariel isn’t quite the angel everyone thinks she is. Her overprotective father, Reverend Moore, isn’t thrilled when she eventually shows interest in Ren.

Right around that time, Ren decides that he’s going to get rid of Bomont’s archaic rules and hold a senior prom. Ren realizes that he needs to convince the town council to remove these laws. He uses proof from the Bible to make his case, but he still loses. In a heart-to-heart moment, Ren reminds the reverend of what it’s like to be young. Convinced, the reverend announces the following Sunday that he will allow the teens to hold a dance.

Footloose was presented by the Pittsburgh Musical Theater. It starred Leo Ash Evens and Emily Lynne Miller as Ren and Ariel, respectively. Evens, a CFA alumnus, had an amazing voice and stage presence. Both Evens and Miller brought their characters to life, and the two worked excellently together. Throughout the musical, the chemistry between them was palpable. When they finally kissed, which was surprisingly late in the musical, there was a collective sigh from most of the audience. In addition, their conversations seemed to flow naturally; between the two of them, nothing was forced, which made the musical all the more interesting.

This isn’t to say that there weren’t actors that gave Evens and Miller a run for their money. One of the best performances was given by Michael Greer, who played Willard. Willard is Ren’s hot-tempered, bad-dancing, and categorically Southern best friend. Willard can’t back down from a fight, yet he has huge problems stepping up to the plate when it comes to Rusty, the girl he likes. Willard’s number “Mama Says” was one of the high points of the evening. Plus, it taught the audience, and Ren, one very important lesson: “Once you drive up a mountain, you can’t back down.” Although the song itself is humorous, Greer’s delivery made it amazing.

However, the play wouldn’t have been Footloose without a show-stopping rendition of the title track. The entire cast shone as they performed the number during the senior prom. The choreography during “Footloose” was also rather impressive.