by Cate Blouke
Special to the American-Statesman
Summertime in Austin brings mosquitos, triple digit temperatures, and a smorgasbord of musical theater productions.
This summer’s crowning glory just might be Summer Stock Austin’s production of “Footloose,” playing now through Aug. 10 in the Rollins Studio Theatre at the Long Center – unless, that is, their production of “Chicago” that opens later this week proves to be the cherry on top.
SSA’s “Footloose” has everything there is to love about musical theater: big, boisterous dance numbers, catchy, unavoidably familiar music, and enough dramatic pathos to tug at the heartstrings.
Even if you haven’t seen the 1984 film, this show is totally delightful. It’s the story of a big city boy, Ren McCormack (Donelvan Thigpen), moving to a conservative small town where dancing has been outlawed. (As with most musicals, if you think about the plot too much, it wears a bit thin, so just suspend your disbelief and enjoy he ride).
Of course, Ren falls for the rambunctious preacher’s daughter, Ariel Moore (Mariel Ardilla), but Reverend Moore (Vincent Hooper) keeps the town and his daughter on a tight leash.
The versatile Hooper is outstanding in his role of town patriarch, especially with Jessica O’Brien at his side as the minister’s wife. O’Brien’s rendition of “Can You Find it in Your Heart,” is truly gorgeous.
As the leading man, Thigpen gets the opportunity to show us his extensive talent through his acting, singing, and the performer’s abundance of dance moves.
In their supporting roles as the show’s secondary love story, Suzannah Metzger (Rusty) and Kyle Coughlin (Willard) are so adorably awkward and naïve, you can’t help but fall for them both.
Director Ginger Morris’ choreography is simply phenomenal. The opening number is bursting with pizzaz and the cast of more than thirty SSA students brings unflinching exuberance even to the afternoon matinees.
“Footloose” also treats us to a wonderfully executed dream sequence dance fight between Ren and Chuck Cranston (Austin Hyde), Ariel’s lowlife boyfriend, while Ardilla belts out the Bonnie Tyler classic, “Holding Out for a Hero.” Beatriz Naranjo elegantly steps into the role of Dream Ariel for this number, and the entire scene is a delight to watch.
A subtle but equally compelling aspect of the show is the smoothness of the scene transitions. The seamless gliding between scenes showcases both the teamwork of the ensemble and the professionalism of Morris’ direction.
SSA’s educational repertory program for high school and college students is clearly a boon to both the students and Austin audiences.