The theater seems to be a never-ending cycle of interlocking circles — musicals made from films, and films made from musicals. The theater has plenty of examples: For instance, the recent film adaptation of "Sweeney Todd" with Johnny Depp as the demon barber. Now there's talk of an "Into the Woods" (it premiered at the Old Globe), possibly with Meryl Streep as the witch. Based on a documentary film, "Hands on a Hardbody," which premiered last season at La Jolla Playhouse, is set for a Broadway opening next spring.
The latest example to appear on the San Diego theater stage is San Diego Musical Theatre's production of "Footloose," a musical with a reputation for being just that, sweet and frothy. The fact is that Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie's 1998 stage musical (based on Pitchford's 1984 film starring Kevin Bacon), with music by Tom Snow and lyrics by Pitchford, has depth, humanity and some memorable tunes, among them a love duet titled "Almost Paradise" that follows one home.
L.A.-based director/choreographer Robert Marra has assembled a fine company made up of mostly Southern California performers. Leading man Anton Fero (who plays Ren McCormack) recently relocated to San Diego from New York. Emma Degerstedt (as Ariel, Ren's love interest) was critically acclaimed as Elle Wood in Moonlight Stage Productions' recent "Legally Blonde." And co-starring in the ensemble is Anton Fero's wife Courtney Fero, a UC Irvine graduate.
"Footloose" is the story of Ren, a teen who moved with his mother to rural Bomont, Illinois, after his father deserted them. Ren, a high-energy kid used to expressing himself through dance, is appalled to learn that Bomont people — at the urging of the Rev. Shaw Moore (wonderfully played by Cris O'Bryon) — believe that rock music gives rise to baser instincts. As a result, the town council has banned dancing within the city limits, which means no high school prom. Naturally, the rebellious Ren promptly falls in love with the preacher's rebellious daughter Ariel. He also befriends the likable Willard (super-tall Jon Eidson), who can't dance and is not the brightest bulb in Bomont.
Other characters include Ariel's tough boyfriend (San Diego resident Aleksander D'Avignon), Mrs. McCormack (Debra Wanger), Mrs. Moore (fabulous Laura Dickinson), the eager-to-dance high school kids and townspeople.
The musical's second act concerns the reasons for the dancing ban and a touching reconciliation between two wounded and needy men, Rev. Shaw and Ren. Meanwhile there are plenty of songs and some lively dancing. Highlights are the Ethel McCormack, Vi Moore and Ariel's trio "Learning to Be Silent," Ariel's "Holding Out for a Hero," Ren's "I Can't Stand Still," the Act I finale "I'm Free/Heaven Help Me," and Vi's "Can You Find it in Your Heart?"
Musical director Don LeMaster presides over a crackerjack eight-member pit band. Mike Buckley's scenic design moves fluidly. Matthew Novotny's lighting is effective. Marra makes it all look easy.
San Diego Musical Theatre seems to be settling into the Birch nicely. A few sound issues remain, particularly when it comes to balance between stage and pit. Hopefully these will be addressed soon.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Through Oct. 14
Where: San Diego Musical Theatre at the Birch North Park Theatre, 2891 University Ave., San Diego
Phone: (858) 560-5740
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