Please, Louise

My friend Michelle met me at Desert Stages the other night to watch its production of Footloose. I think Michelle looks exactly like Jodie Foster during her short-brown-hair period, and when we're out together and I get bored, I like to pretend Michelle is Jodie Foster and that I'm friends with a famous Oscar-winning actress.

I got a lot of Jodie-time that night because I was very, very bored watching this interminable production. I've seen worse musicals, but never one performed by so many untalented people — nearly three dozen of them! — at once. This Footloose is so dreadful that nothing I can write about it will do justice to its awfulness; I'd like to tell you, "You'll just have to see it to believe it," but then you may go buy tickets to this thing, and we'd both be very sorry if that happened. Trust me.

Footloose is, of course, the popular stage musical based on the equally popular '80s movie in which Kevin Bacon kicked up his heels and got to make out with Lori Singer. In most versions of this musical, there are actual singers, dancers, and musicians to tell the story about a town in the Midwest where dancing is verboten. Desert Stages went a different route and hired one singer, one dancer, and no band at all. Instead, director Antonio Villarreal filled the stage with teenagers who shriek and wriggle to sluggish, pre-recorded backing tracks. The best thing about the music is that the volume is turned down so low it's barely audible, so that was nice. Apparently, this is so we can clearly hear each of the more than 4,000 bum notes the cast hits while hollering the program's score. (Further assistance is provided by body mics so huge that the players all appear to be wearing neck braces and Tootsie Pops tucked behind their ears.)

Jimmy Shoffman is featured as Ren, the Midwest's hairiest teenager, who actually has some decent dance moves — two of them, to be precise, which he is unfortunately made to repeat in every one of the poky, uninspired musical numbers in this overlong show. The rest of the cast is handed mostly kick-ball-changes and fist-shaking to perform as dance moves, although several of the youngsters were also quite good at hopping in place while screaming. I thought things couldn't get any worse until Angela Yates started shouting the chorus to "Let's Hear It For the Boy" as Brian McCarthy faked an epileptic seizure while surrounded by 15-year-olds dressed as middle-aged farmers, which caused me to have to close my eyes for a while, so I can't tell you much about what happened next.

Not every player was hopeless. Terry Helland, who plays the John Lithgow role, has a nice singing voice and a pleasant stage presence, although I probably missed some of the nuances of his performance because I was so busy feeling sorry for him for having to appear in this appalling mess. Villarreal is a splendid dancer; his routine during "Holding Out for a Hero" (a song I'd forgotten how much I hate) was quite spectacular, even if he was dressed in Army fatigues, which I guess was a subtle reminder that a lot of people think "our boys overseas" are heroic for blowing up people for not being Christian. Villarreal's other blunders include casting himself as Cowboy Bob in Act Two's opening number and clogging the stage with dozens of teens, who stand around whispering "rutabaga, rutabaga" to one another while the other performers are trying to act.

Eventually, these faux-thespian crowds dispersed and their cacophony ended, which was the nicest thing that had happened to me since last Tuesday, when I was told that Mark Turvin has finally decided to stop pretending to be a theater critic, thus leaving more legroom for the rest of us who are pretending to be theater critics. I drove home and got into bed, where I had nightmares all night long about hirsute teens chasing me in circles, trying to force me to do the macarena with Jodie Foster to Bonnie Tyler records.

The memory of my nightmare will eventually fade, but I'm not so sure about the experience of having seen this terrifying production of Footloose, which seems likely to linger like a bad cold for months to come. I'll keep you posted.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela