Footloose seems like a natural candidate for adaptation to a stage musical. It has a cheeseball inspirational plot (big-city kid rolls into rural religious town, learns to fit in while teaching them the joy of not banning dancing). The story is centered entirely around the prospect of dance numbers. It has a built-in swath of hit '80s singles, prime fodder for writers who can't be bothered to come up with two acts' worth of original material these days.
Because of its reliance on familiarity of plot and music, its success relies on three things: music, singing and dancing. Acting quality is secondary - after all, there's only so much range you can show on this sort of script, no matter how sharp your chops are.
Unfortunately, there are three areas in which Tacoma Little Theatre's production really falls down: music, singing and dancing.
In truth, the music and singing are both plagued less by lack of talent than by a host of problems stemming from the sound design. The stage isn't so much plagued with dead spots as it is one giant dead zone peppered with the occasional live spot. Hopefully by the end of the run the cast will have fudged their blocking enough to face directly into the hanging microphones that seem their only hope of being heard.
This issue is exacerbated by a cast that seems more like choir members than a musical ensemble. A lead whose inclination is to blend his voice, attempting to stand out against the relentless onslaught of a fully miked, honking saxophone, is a recipe for disaster when the lyrics are part of the plot. Even the solo numbers of an experienced and talented Tacoma veteran like Jay Iseli, as the local reverend who has campaigned so fiercely against sin, are reduced to a sloppy mess of poor timing and overpowering keyboards.
Despite director Chris Nardine's lengthy pedigree as a professional choreographer, the dancing often comes across as muddled. Lack of audition turnout resulted in a pared-down cast, which doesn't have enough members with experience in synchronized movement to tie the group together.
The action all takes place on a limited set that looks like it was built less for artistic expression than for budget and time constraints. Its centerpiece is a large backdrop of projected photography, but the front-projection and taller cast members lead to the occasional embarrassing hair shadow.
One thing Footloose is certainly capable of is putting butts in seats. Opening night attendance resembled that of recent financial smash The Buddy Holly Story, and the familiarity of the material will surely draw in a healthy share of future customers. Unfortunately, I doubt the theater will see much repeat business this time around, unless the technical problems are resolved, which I suspect is not terribly likely at this point.
Tacoma Little Theatre, through May 20, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, $16.50-$26.50, 210 N. I St., Tacoma, 253.272.2481