It’s a tale as old as, well, the ‘80s.
American Stage in the Park presents Footloose: The Musical in St. Petersburg’s Demens Landing through May 8.
The local musical, based on the 1984 romantic musical responsible for the hit song “Footloose” and starring a young Kevin Bacon, was set to premier two years ago, but never did due to COVID-19 shutdowns. Because of this, most of the original cast gave up their spots.
The show we see today is a recast by director and choreographer Shain Stroff, who has directed several other American Stage productions, including Hairspray – The Musical in 2017. American Stage’s version of Footloose is similar to the original film, but adapted by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie.
The obvious star of the show was Alex DeLeo, who plays Chicago transplant and certified “bad boy” Ren McCormack alongside love interest and the embodiment of strong female energy Lea Marinelli (Ariel Moore).
Maybe it’s just DeLeo, or maybe it’s how the script shapes him, but the actor’s leaps across the stage, disdain for the rural town of Bomont, and then excitement for an obsessive amount of illegal (spoiler alert: it gets legalized) dancing is plain fun to watch.
He’s got energy, and the park – filled to the brim with play-goers on opening weekend – seems to dance and unconsciously jiggle their legs when it’s his turn to belt out a song.
Moreso than Marinelli and DeLeo’s chemistry, DeLeo and the cowboy-hat-wearing, Southern-accent-butchering, Troy D. Wallace (Willard Hewitt) enjoy a carefree energy, even when the characters fight (and they do squabble a good bit of the musical).
The less obvious star, supporting actor John Perez, plays the anti-dancing, anti-happiness-that’s-not-God-fearing Rev. Shaw Moore, father of Ariel Moore. Everyone’s supposed to be scared of the reverend’s wrath as he hilariously stomps into their full-blown dance numbers consistently throughout the show. Perez is natural as a sassy, suspender-clad, small-town pillar of the community. He has a commanding presence, even in the background, seething at the sight of yet another high-energy choreographed dance break.
However, the music and choreography is the real star – props to you Stroff – and the Marinelli-led “Holdin’ Out for a Hero” performance put my favorite version (Jennifer Saunders’ fairy godmother’s rendition in “Shrek II”) to shame.
In all, though, does American Stage’s production hold up its precursor, the 1984 film? It’s not quite as glamorous as the original, but a whole other animal itself. The cast has personality, but those personalities don’t blend with the original cast archetype and feel of the movie. It lacks the the smudged-eyeliner, rock n’ roll feel from 30 years ago. But it does have a cast of eager, easy-to-watch performers with a knack for dancing. The “theater in the park” conceit is a selling point, too. Where else to drink beer in a folding chair, if not in Demen’s Landing?
I’d say It’s worth the watch, especially if you haven’t seen the film.
Footloose: The Musical Demens Landing Park, Corner of 1st Ave. N. & Bayshore Blvd. SE, St. Pete. Wed.-Sun., 8 p.m. $21-48. Get tickets.