Review: Without Ignoring Timely Themes, Footloose Gives Audiences a Good Time

Senior Eli Faber and junior Izzy Auerswald, center, seen during a dress rehearsal, played the lead roles in Footloose. Photo courtesy of Leia Levine.

With all of the anxiety of a year coming to a close, GDS’ 2022 production of Footloose was, for a lack of a better description, a time to cut loose. Director Laura Rosberg and junior Katie Young, the stage manager, opened with a quick acknowledgement of the logistical issues that the cast and crew overcame—a delay sparked by a COVID outbreak in the cast, a glitch in the ticket-selling system and, during the Saturday matinee, a collapse in the sound system—but the second the blue and orange lights hit the stage, it was clear that the audience was in for a good time.

The energy was high throughout the elaborate dance numbers choreographed by dance and acting teacher Maria Watson. The costume designers, seniors Miriam Akhmetshin and Signe Schowitz, put together an ensemble that was both vibrant and cohesive. The ’70s-style jumpsuits for the “I Need a Hero” number and the puffy-sleeved church dresses were a welcome blast from the past, though my favorites were the matching yellow gym uniforms that the students of Bomont High begrudgingly wore.

The casting was perfect: Senior Eli Faber delivered as lead Ren McCormack, a teenager forced to move from Chicago to a small town that is stuck in the past, and junior Izzy Auerswald gave a compelling portrayal of Ariel Moore, the rebellious preacher’s daughter struggling to navigate her relationship with her father and her transition into adulthood. Junior Wesley Brubaker, who played Reverend Moore, immersed himself in his character as a flawed community leader struggling to heal from the death of his son.

Students’ voices were a clear highlight, with angelic harmonies from the church choir and a powerful rendition of “Learning to Be Silent.” The upbeat numbers had me tapping my toes, and it was a pleasure to watch the orchestra, which was easily visible from the mezzanine seats, as well. However, at times it was difficult to make out the words of the solo performances over the powerful drum beats.

GDS students are notoriously funny, and the laughter from the audience was nonstop. Highlights included the diner scene, in which performers struggled to walk on roller skates; senior Max Grosman’s performance of violence-inclined Willard Hewitt; and senior Aidan Kohn-Murphy as the overly stubborn and angry Coach Roger Dunbar. Even the digital program was hilarious and is definitely worth a read.

Content-wise, the musical showcased many of the tensions America continues to face. Townspeople face censorship reminiscent of ongoing clashes regarding public school curricula—in an early scene, town leaders criticize the school’s decision to teach Slaughterhouse-Five, an anti-war novel by Kurt Vonnegut. (In the last show, the actors changed the disputed book to Antiracist Baby, by Ibram X. Kendi, which Senator Ted Cruz attacked GDS for recommending.) Female characters grapple with a lack of autonomy in their personal and family lives, an issue that remains all too real and is amplified by the recently leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade.

However, the show’s ending note was one of optimism. Though the musical grappled with some serious content, including domestic violence and the loss of family members, it was first and foremost fun. For those looking for a chance to kick off their Sunday shoes, GDS’ Footloose did not disappoint.