THE all-singing, all-dancing stage adaptation of Dean Pitchford’s 1984 screen hit plays out at Cardiff’s New Theatre this week.
Directed by Racky Plews, the production follows Chicago-born Ren McCormack, played on-screen by Kevin Bacon, as he moves to a little-known Midwestern town. Ren, with the help of the students at Bomont High, transforms the hapless town into a rocking community. Cleverly choreographed by Matthew Cole, the quick-paced show dances around deep community issues and allows for light-hearted viewing.
McCormack was more than ably portrayed by Luke Baker. His athleticism and commitment to the demanding dance numbers was admirable. Though the narrative isn’t the deepest or most complex, McCormack’s character requires a diverse range to which Baker dully obliged.
Gareth Gates and Maureen Nolan led the cast list with a host of Musical Theatre graduates. Pop Idol runner-up Gates plays the role of McCormack’s new friend Willard. The part, resembling a Steinbeck-like Lennie, is value for a few laughs at the rhythmically inept student. Played with a loveably dim nature, Gates’s performance and celebrity status earned him the loudest cheer at the end of the evening.
One of Gates’s performance highlights was being wolf whistled by an audience of mostly 40-something year-old ladies when he ripped his shirt off during a camp rendition of Jim Steinman’s classic hit, Holding out for a Hero. However kudos to Gates for his dancing proficiency. The zenith of his appearance came as he broke out into accomplished dance to Let’s Hear it for the Boys.
The piece was held together competently and maturely by Hannah Price, who plays McCormack’s love interest. The siren’s flirty and racy nature was convincing and alluring and carried out with stringent professionalism. Price’s flawless and powerful vocals in her frequent singing numbers brought a fervent strength of character to the role. She was the unparalleled shining light in the show.
Undoubtedly the surprise star in the package was Joanna Sawyer who plays Ariel’s friend and Willard’s childhood sweetheart Rusty. Sawyer’s strong vocals stood out above all and added a rich sound to the cast’s choral pieces. Rusty’s solo performances stood out among the company’s songs. She was deservedly noticed in the markedly loud cheers and applause in the encore.
The lively performances by Natasha Brown and Miracle Chance as part of Ariel and Rusty’s friendship group added to the vibrancy of the youthful dance chorus. Elder statesmen of the cast Nigel Lister, playing the stubborn old Reverend, along with Nolan who plays his wife, Vi, were often drowned out by the colourful, young cast. Though Nolan’s acting gave some heartwarming moments as the worried-mum of rebellious Ariel, the compelling voices of the sprightly cast drowned out the senior members of the piece.
An impressive feat of the production was the versatility and competency of the musically-skilled cast. All instruments were played live on stage, often during taxing choreography. This element brought a great sense of authenticity and honesty to the show and showcased the talents of all who took the stage.
The act finished with a reprise of the ensemble favourites and the almost-packed New Theatre clapped and sang along to the encore. The show runs until Saturday, March 5.