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Almost Paradise

Footloose at Tacoma Musical Playhouse raises money for real Beaumont

The cast of Footloose. Photo credit: Kat Dollarhide

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I enjoyed opening night of Footloose at Tacoma Musical Playhouse. It's a rocking good, high-energy show with great music and dancing. The music is mostly up-tempos rock and roll blended with a touch of gospel and show tunes, and an occasional sweet love song such as the beautiful "Almost Paradise," a duet between Ren (Jake Atwood) and Ariel (Jessica Furnstahl) -- a Romeo and Juliet-like balcony scene with sparkling electricity between the two.

Footloose is a simple but well told story of clashes between youth and age, small-town uptightness and big-city wildness. Ren and his mother (Linda Palacios) move from Chicago to the small town of Beaumont, Texas, to live with a relative after Ren's father leaves them. Ren is rebellious and carries a huge chip on his shoulder. And he loves to dance. He is shocked to find out that in Beaumont dancing is against the law. The small-minded and fearful town council, led by the Rev. Shaw Moore (Gary Chambers) passed the repressive law after four local youth ran off a bridge and were killed coming home from a dance. In their minds, dancing leads to drinking and other outrageous behavior. Of course, Ren thinks the law is absurd, and he rallies his high school classmates to fight against it.

As always in shows like this there is a love story subplot. Ariel, Rev. Moore's daughter, dates the town bad guy, Chuck Cranston (Nick Clawson), as an act of rebellion. Inevitably, she falls for Ren -- this is a romantic musical, after all.

I was struck from the beginning with the stark and gritty set, a building with an industrial look with five large double doors and a balcony. It could be a train station of a warehouse, or almost anything, and serves as backdrop throughout as a myriad of scenes from a school to a church to town chamber room to a dance hall. The versatility of this set works beautifully. It reminded me immediately of the loft building set in Rent, and the play's exuberance and celebration of rebellion also reminded me of that grittier and more realistic musical, as well as the classic West Side Story.

As is typical of Tacoma Musical Playhouse, the cast is large, and there are terrific big numbers with a talented ensemble dancing and singing.

Furnstahl is beautiful, and she convincingly plays Ariel as a complex character. Even though she looks young enough to be a high school senior, which Ariel is, I suspected Furnstahl was at least in her mid-20s because of the confidence and subtlety of her acting. I was surprised to read in the program that she is, indeed, a senior at Sumner High School. Watch for this young actor; she is destined for big things in musical theater.

Cameron Waters was outstanding as Willard, the loveable misfit. His crazy dancing and his overall performance on the song "Mama Says" were the comical highlights of the show.

Also outstanding in supporting roles were Clawson as the epitome of juvenile delinquency and Corissa Deverse as Ariel's friend and Willard's girlfriend, Rusty. What a great voice she has.

Finally, kudos to Atwood for bringing the house down with his every move. His energetic and athletic dancing is astounding (TMP audiences saw that in his tap-dancing role as Scuttle the seagull in the recent production of The Little Mermaid.

Special kudos to Tacoma Musical Playhouse for using this show to raise money for Orange Community Players, a community theater in the real town of Beaumont that was almost totally destroyed by Hurricane Harvey.

Footloose, 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, through Oct. 15, Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, $22-$31, 253.565.6867, tmp.org

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