Reviews, On Campus, Opinion, Featured

6th November 2023

LUST’s ‘Footloose’ – Review

Wow wow wow. Once again, the Liverpool University Student Theatre (LUST) production of ‘Footloose’ exceeded everything that I could have hoped for! From the opening number to the final seconds, everyone could see the dedication of every single cast and crew member. I’ve always been told that ‘Footloose’ is a show that has to be done just right, to do it justice. Once more this team took my expectations and exceeded them! What was even more entertaining, on this final show night, was the cast’s added ad-libs. We could barely control ourselves with laughter, and the small moments of shock from the other on-stage cast members (and director, Amelia Rogers) were incredible to watch.

Image Credit: Photo by Emilie Harrison

It’s been a different experience for me, this time around because I’ve not done quite as much of the producing, we’ve got lovely Dafydd, who’s our producer. So, I’ve been able to focus more on what’s actually happening on the stage, which has been such a fun experience! Megan is such a cracking person to direct with and her choreography is just stunning!

Amelia Rogers, Director.

I cannot praise this cast enough for bringing this iconic musical theatre show to life! ‘Footloose’ is a childhood favourite of mine, and I jumped at the opportunity to watch the performance. Before taking our seats, I got the pleasure of speaking to the director, Amelia Rogers. I also caught up with Diarmuid Gaffney (Ren), Madeleine Young (Ariel), Daniel Maughan (Willard), Ashleigh Foster (Rusty) and Joseph Blacksell (Chuck) about the amazing efforts of staging this beloved musical. From these short conversations, I knew that we were in for an absolute treat, but I never could have imagined the pure creative genius and raw talent that unfolded over the course of the show.

The Cast

Diarmuid Gaffney as Ren McCormack

Second-year Modern Languages student, Diarmuid played Ren McCormack, and believe me when I tell you he raised the roof! Admitting he likes a challenge, Diarmuid took the role of playing Ren to a whole new level. He set the bar with the opening number ‘Footloose’ and moved on to sing ‘I’m Free’ (one of my personal favourites). Not only was his acting exceptional but his vocal talent blew us all away. The romantic tension between Diarmuid and Madeleine excelled the whole show, which is extraordinary if you consider they had only met whilst working on the show.

Diarmuid told us that he had thoroughly enjoyed the whole process of building the performance. He praised choreographer and director, Megan Tudor, as “the whole rehearsal process for this show has been fun, lots of dancing involved”. While exceptionally modest off-stage, he stole our hearts as Ren McCormack, bringing a new sense of life to the character that I, for one, haven’t seen since the likes of Kevin Bacon.

Madeleine Young as Ariel Moore

Where to start with this up-and-coming actress? I have no words! First-year International Relations student, Madeleine landed the lead and watching her, it’s definitely no surprise why. I was so incredibly impressed with her performance of ‘The Girl Gets Around’. Madeleine nailed the ‘Ariel’ attitude, and personality, and her Southern accent was really well put on. My highlight of Madeleine’s performance was her exceptional ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ – my God this girl can sing! Now, I love Bonnie Tyler, but if I had to pick between their styles of song, it would be Madeleine’s.

Only being in her first year, her highlight has been “getting to know lots of new people! I wasn’t expecting a part in ‘Footloose’, never mind one of the main parts”. To land the female lead is amazing, let alone in your first year! I certainly would not have had dry eyes during Madeleine and Diarmuid’s rendition of ‘Almost Paradise’, had they not added funky sunglasses to make it humourous on this particular ad-lib night. Madeleine definitely brought her sense of humour to Ariel’s character, as we saw when she entered the stage wearing her minion onesie, to the surprise of myself, Amelia and Oli Tometski (who played Reverend Shaw), who could barely contain himself on-stage, having turned around to face her, completely unexpecting! I look forward to what we will see from this rising star in future musicals.

Image Credit: Photo by Emilie Harrison

Ashleigh Foster as Rusty and Dan Maughan as Willard

One of the most beautiful on-screen pairings I have ever seen! The acting ability of these two performers was incredible, their chemistry elevated the entire show. It is often the on-stage romantic tension between two actors that draws me to musicals – Rusty and Willard are one of my all-time favourite will-they-won’t-they couples and portraying this was an absolute success thanks to Ashleigh and Daniel.

Ashleigh’s ‘Let’s Hear It For The Boy’ was one of the most encapsulating performances that I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. The vocal ability of these performers is absolutely outstanding! I had literal chills watching her sing. Daniel’s ‘Mama Says’ was heightened by his imaginative portrayal of Willard. His attention to Willard’s slight awkwardness and his ever-iconic cowboy hat was perfectly enacted! Daniel hit the nail on the head with his preparation for Willard’s character. His acting was as convincing as if he were in the original show.

Off-stage, Daniel confessed that his own ‘Mama Says’ was his favourite ‘Footloose’ track. Ashleigh’s was the ever-emotional ‘Can You Find It In Your Heart’. Both praised the female lead, Madeleine, for “dragging herself out of the depths whilst hungover to be at rehearsals”, which truly shows how much this show means to the cast. In a rather romantic fashion, Daniel praised his on-stage partner, Ashleigh, for “not complaining and just dealing with things when they go wrong”, labelling her as his biggest inspiration on the cast. The pair gave special mentions to Rebecca Grant (Urleen) for her vocal talent, which certainly wasn’t missed by the audience!

Image Credit: Photo by Emilie Harrison

Joseph Blacksell as Chuck Cranston

This is the second time I have seen Joseph perform in LUST. I’ll start with exactly what we said last time – there is a certain magnetism and confidence to him that immediately captivates the audience. I always enjoy interviewing Joseph, I adore how seriously he takes his roles. His professionalism in performance is a sign that he is an incredible actor. Even playing such a villain like Chuck, he still steals the hearts of the audience with his excellent acting. In Joseph’s words, he thought that the part of Chuck was “slightly out of my range as an actor and a singer”. Surely enough, with the help of the production team, he was able to come into his own with the character, despite Chuck being “such an arsehole”.

Joseph’s preparation to play characters that are the opposite of his own demeanour mainly consists of just “turning off any moral inhibitions that you have, going out there and screaming at people”. As we heard last time in his ‘The Lightning Thief’ interview, Joseph has, previously, been in roles where he must “channel his inner dickhead”, which is definitely apt for the role of Chuck Cranston. His vocals in ‘The Girl Gets Around’ were incredible, as always, and the way he carried himself on the stage was a truly convincing portrayal of his villainous character. The bottom line, Joseph’s portrayal of the characters that we often love to hate, makes him all the more loveable as an actor.

Oli Tometski as Reverend Shaw, Kyra Naldoza as Vi, and Grace Harrison as Ethel

The acting talent displayed by this parental trio was truly remarkable! Kyra and Grace’s rendition of ‘Learning To Be Silent’ was beautiful in every way, with amazing harmonies and incredibly emotional. Grace’s portrayal of Ethel highlighted the struggles of raising a child as a single mother. She most definitely did this role justice! The on-stage partnership of Oli and Kyra was an excellent match. The pure emotion between their characters swept the whole audience. The emotional connection between the pair was epitomised during their ‘Can You Find It In Your Heart’. This was a particularly beautiful moment between the two cast members.

Oli definitely encapsulated Reverend Shaw, portraying the grief and struggle of his character, without the slightest fault. One of the most entertaining moments of Oli’s stage time has to be his reaction to Madeleine’s ad-libbed minion onesie. Equally, his struggle to contain his laughter when the band missed the cue for Diarmuid’s ‘knock’ on the Reverend’s door was an excellent watch. He gave such a raw reaction that we could all see he just never expected it. To see Oli recover from that surprise and continue with his lines, despite choking back laughter, was amazing to watch.

Image Credit: Photo by Emilie Harrison

The Ensemble

The likes of Emma Hall, Mya Bates and Holly Jones pulled together to support in the Ensemble. Partaking in the incredibly choreographed dances, these amazing cast members ensured that the visual-auditory elements were never lacking. Elevating the effect of ‘Footloose’ on the audience, the ensemble did an excellent job, they never missed a beat.

The Minor Details

Moreover, directors paid meticulous attention to even the most minor details, when pulling together this masterpiece! Each cast member’s Southern accent was particularly notable, and after spending almost two years in Texas, I can confirm that this cast definitely did their homework! Not only this, but the pure emotion from the cast really spoke to the whole audience. It can’t be easy to be on the stage and deliver that level of intense emotion and passion. Megan Tudor’s choreography proved to be everything that Amelia Rogers had promised. After starring as Anna-Beth in ‘The Lightning Thief’, Megan has moved over to the director/choreography position. This has proved an even bigger treat for audiences, as Megan’s ability to craft such fantastic dance numbers can be seen.

A Final Congratulations

Finally, congratulations to Amelia Rogers and Megan Tudor for directing yet another, extremely successful show! Congratulations to the producer, Dafydd Pitman, and musical director, Jonah Williams, without whom the show would not have been possible. To all of the cast, a huge congratulations on the remarkable acting, singing and dancing displayed. ‘Footloose’ has proven to be, yet again, another masterpiece created by the Liverpool University Student Theatre group.

Featured Image Credit: Photo by Emilie Harrison