Date 11th March 2020
Society Newry Musical Society
Venue Town Hall, Newry
Type of Production Musical
Director David Cunningham
Musical Director Danny O’Neill
Choreographer Lisa Irvine


Author: Sheelagh Hobart

Footloose – a 1984 film musical – was adapted for the stage in 1998. Revivals and tours have taken place in the US, UK and Australia since then but this production was only a second viewing for me.

The show opened to a rousing rendition of “Footloose” the title song and dance, set in the city of Chicago and then, in contrast, a church meeting in the small town of Bomont featuring “On Any Sunday”. This was where Ren McCormack (Connor Mathews) and his mother Ethel (Anne-Marie McAleenon) were moving to from Chicago, after his father abandoned them. As Ren, Connor maintained the energy of his role throughout the show –“I can’t stand still”- and portrayed a likeable personality although rather rebellious and emotional at times. He was a strong dancer and had a pleasing singing voice. His mother’s small role was well covered by Anne-Marie, always showing loving support for her son. Upon meeting with his age group at High School, Ren is shocked to discover the town’s dancing ban and starts to persuade his new friends, such as Ariel (Rachel Finnegan), to lead a movement for change. 

Rachel showed the rebellious side of her nature - first by being the girlfriend of Chuck Cranston, the local ‘bad boy’, and then by teaming up with Ren against her father’s wishes. Her vocals were impressive and she was a good dancer too. Played by Neil Heaney, Chuck was a bully and abused Ariel when she broke up with him and although his assault was not shown in detail it was well implied by Neil as was his attempt to turn local youths against Ren. James McCloughlin took the comedic role as Willard Hewitt, a slow-witted country boy who was not much of a conversationalist!! Befriended by Ren, he was encouraged to stop being so quick to fight and even learned to dance! James captured the character very accurately and his ‘learn to dance’ scene was hilarious! His singing was also good. Rusty (who professed to being Willard’s girlfriend although they hardly spoke) was delightfully played by Leah McCarron and her singing of the well-known “Holding out for a Hero” was impressive. She was sweet, fun and her comedic timing was good. Together with the highly enthusiastic Wendy-Jo (Sophie Doyle) and quieter Urleen (Lauren Maguire) these girls supported Ariel in song and dance - somewhat like a Greek chorus. Willard’s gang  - Jeter (Ben Keenan), Bickle (Frank McMullan) and Garvin (Finnen McCann). and Cowboy Bob (Eanna Carr) - supported him in the same way, as did Chuck’s gang Lyle (Thomas Campbell) and Travis (Paddy Heaney) although they did change sides when Chuck turned nasty. Cowboy Bob (Eanna Carr) appeared as lead entertainer in the Western Dance Hall and all these young people, together with the 35 strong youth chorus, sang and danced their way through the show with excellent musicality. I was amazed at the total number of boys in the cast – most of whom seemed to be able to sing and dance! I hope most will stick around for Newry’s next show! 

There was also a 9 strong adult ensemble who really only got to sing in church – together with many, such as School Principal (Dennis Walsh), Coach Dunbar (Miceal White), Wes & Lulu (John Heatley & Judith Downey), Eleanor (Eilish McCaffrey and Betty (Veronica Barr), who took minor parts in assured manner – the latter who grabbed the attention by arriving on a scooter! The leading adult protagonist was Jim McGuigan as the Rev. Shaw Moore with Helena Hughes as his wife Vi. She showed a loving and supportive nature to her husband and daughter Ariel, and her trio “Learning to be Silent” with Rachel and Anne-Marie was beautifully harmonised. As Rev.Shaw, Jim was the traditional church leader – strict and stern but stubborn in his views on young people’s behaviour. The loss of his son in a tragic accident some years before had obviously robbed him of his previous sense of humour and charisma and we could feel the pain. His less than exciting vocal numbers were well sung but did not really show Jim’s excellent Bass voice.

The set, by ‘Theatrical Sets Ireland’, was backed by an ‘iron’ bridge with steps and walkway – very well used and the central gap underneath was effective as a railway track. The use of lighting gave excellent imagery of trains approaching and passing. The problem with a film to stage musical is the large number of scene changes – easy on film but difficult on a stage without flying facilities. The stage team managed the frequent changes pretty efficiently with everything trucked or carried on and off. Lighting made good use of blackouts and spots; sound was balanced and sound effects effective! Costumes were probably sourced by the cast and were all suitable with few changes during the production. 

David Cunningham directed a very different type of show to last years’ J.C.Superstar – successful again but I suspect that Choreographer Lisa had the lions’ share of the work! Her dance routines were all energetic, well-rehearsed and relevant to the period and the young cast were obviously enjoying them. The few routines which involved the adults were well presented too. Danny O’Neill’s 5-piece combo were well up to the task, never overwhelming those on stage and mostly providing cover for scene changes

This was an exuberant production with everyone well suited to their role. A fitting celebration of the society’s 75 years.

My thanks for the hospitality and to everybody who contributed to our great evening’s entertainment.