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Footloose as presented by UCD Musical Society

Footloose, as presented by UCD Musical Society

Performance Dates: 22nd-25th November

Date of Adjudicated Performance: Wednesday 22nd November, 2023.

It seems like such a short time since I was writing about UCD’s production of Bare, and it shows the dedication and passion of these students that they have so quickly and thoroughly pulled together their second highly entertaining show of the season.

On this occasion, Director, Becca Lennon, has struck a very good balance between the zanier world of the young people of Bomont and the more stiff-collared adults of the population, in a very fine production of Footloose.

While there were many strong elements in this presentation, what impressed me most was the maturity of some of the young cast members in representing the older, more traditional town folks so effectively. Perhaps the best acting of the night came from Eoin Dunnion in the role of Rev Shaw. Though obviously very young for the role, he displayed great maturity and understanding in portraying the emotions of a troubled father whose loss of his son had led to the crumbling of his family life and his sense of justice. There was great sincerity in his realization of the errors of his ways, and he performed his musical pieces with genuine emotion.

His wife, Vi, played by Brianna Kelly, was equally believable and sincere, quietly accepting of her husband’s irrational behavior, yet so strong in relating the depth of her affection for him. Her songs were sung with lovely emotion and a very beautiful tone. Aoife Blake was a mature and very convincing mother to Ren, as Ethel. She had a very reassuring calm and presence and a most impressive voice.

Indeed the trio between Ethel, Vi and Ariel was a musical highlight of the show, being so beautifully sung. There was good support from Oscar Blair and Irina Agotha and Wes and Lulu Warnicker, Ren’s judgmental (Karen-type) uncle and aunt, Joseph Gibney as the bullying Coach Dunbar, Sorcha McGlynn as his wife and council member, Eleanor, and from Rose Shirley as the stern and abrupt Principal of the school.

It was really the work of the director in bringing out wonderfully ‘adult’ performances from this group that created the right dynamic for the story to succeed. I was also extremely impressed that there was a respectful approach to the religiosity of Rev Shaw and his parishioners, and also a good handling of the emotions of loss and grieving.

The show centers, of course, on the antics of the younger cast, and particularly on the relationships between Ren and Ariel and between Willard and Rusty.

Robert Hogan made a very fine Ren McCormack, comfortable in his own skin, well able for the dance and movement, believable in his romantic scenes with Ariel, and very good in the emotional scenes with Shaw, as he comes to terms with losing his father. He had a good sense of comedy and he was vocally secure in all his numbers.

Niamh O’Brien played the scarred youth of Ariel extremely well. She convinced as the girl who wanted for her father’s affection and approval, and her warming to Ren had good authenticity. She moved with great ease and confidence and her vocals were rock solid. Very nicely played.

A really great comedic performance came from Ciara McKenna in the role of Rusty, full of bluster and babble, and cute awkwardness in her affairs with Willard. Added to her fine sense

of comedic timing was a fulsome and expressive voice, making this a very memorable characterization.

As Willard, Elijah Lopez was suitably thick headed and highly comical in his misguided sense of logic. Mama Says was a well-executed number and nicely sung, and all his engagements with Rusty were played with a kind of ridiculous romantic charm. Very likeable.

With a look that bordered on psychotic, and eyes that were vacant one moment and piercing the next, Chloe Burke made a strong character of Wendy Joe. She had a good vocal quality and was very relaxed in all her dance routines. Beside her, an equally impressive, Sadhbh O’Hanlon give spirit and energy to the role of Urleen, fun and feisty and accomplished in both singing and dancing.

Connor Kirwan had the stature, and a good voice, to be believable as the thug, Chuck, and perhaps just needed a touch more of the sinister about his characterization. I noted in the finale that he was also a pretty good mover.

Energy was very much in evidence in many of the high-octane dance routines, courtesy of choreographer, Maya Gaul, and the cast all demonstrated a strong sense of involvement. It was particularly impressive that even while performing energetic and well-crafted dance routines, the chorus still managed to give an excellent vocal quality to their numbers. They were well-integrated into the action, creating a good atmosphere in so many scenes. I liked that they listened and responded to the business on stage, even looking sincere in their religious fervor in church. Vocal Director, Amber Dixon, takes credit for good harmonies and diction throughout, while Musical Director, Edie Weinstein, ensured that the talented orchestra provided the perfectly pitched accompaniment to the show.

With a set that was functional but effective, the lighting team did a good job of providing atmosphere and ambiance to many scenes and in creating pools of light to represent various locations. With a notable improvement in sound quality also very evident since their last production, the entire technical team deserve much praise for a job very well done. They were assisted in no small part by a good stage team under the leadership of Stage Manager, Sammy Heroux.

n the shape of varied, appropriate and distinctive costumes, good hair and make-up and good stage dressing with well-selected props and furniture.

While some performances were stronger than others, the general standard in this production was very high and most of all, the energy and drive of this company is abundant, which kind of guarantees that they will always strive to be better, which is as much as anyone can ask for. I’m indebted to all concerned for a thoroughly entertaining night of musical theatre in the company of a delightful and dedicated group of musical thespians.

Peter Kennedy, Gilbert Adjudicator

Some photos kindly provided by the society.

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