Pictured: Sarah Smith and Spencer Walters. (Mimi Dabestani)

All reviews are written by Cappies student critics and edited by Cappies adult mentors prior to publishing.

Sophie Friedman, a student at W.T. Woodson High School reviews ”Footloose”, performed by Oakton High School , as part of The Cappies Critics and Awards Program .

For as long as anyone can remember, dancing has been a form of free and passionate expression. But this is not the case in Bomont, as Ren McCormack would soon come to discover. In Bomont, dancing is against the law, but Ren becomes determined to “right this wrong” because “if there’s one thing worth fighting for, it’s freedom!”

Despite the serious messages of rebellion against injustice, Footloose, a 1984 film starring Kevin Bacon which was later adapted for the stage in 1998, is an energized show about the power of dance. As the town of Bomont grows to realize, dancing serves as both a method of releasing unwanted tension and celebrating life. Oakton High School captured that celebration and delivered it in the wonderful and uplifting musical that is “Footloose.”

Led by the power duo of Ren McCormack (Aidan Smith) and Ariel Moore (Emma Mankin), Oakton’s cast was full of energy and everyone was clearly enjoying their time on stage. Smith took the spotlight, as Ren McCormack should, with his goofy but endearing antics and versatile vocals. Smith completely captured the audience’s hearts with his convincing frustrations at the town, adoration for Ariel, and triumph over the unjust law against dancing. Mankin portrayed equally well the headstrong Ariel, and she caught the audience with her smooth vocals in particular. Both Smith and Mankin visibly transformed together over the course of the show, with their relationship climaxing at their beautiful rendition of “Almost Paradise.”

Another notable couple--Reverend Shaw Moore (Henry Ragan) and Vi Moore (Hannah Berlin)--carried the other side of the story: the story of parents struggling to transcend hardships and understand their unruly teenagers. Ragan portrayed the many levels of the tormented Reverend, and his appropriately aged and emotive vocals only added to his convincing and touching performance. Berlin’s crisp delivery and even more poignant vocals injected her role as a reverend’s wife with surprising energy and empathy. Both performances were incredibly truthful and moving.

Rounding up the talented cast was Ariel’s always-fun posse of Rusty (Sarah Smith), Wendy Jo (Elise Bartakke), and Urleen (Alex Sommese), along with Ren’s bumbling companion, Willard Hewitt (Spencer Waters). Waters was lovable as the endearing Willard, while Ariel’s posse was full of energy and simply a joy to watch. Elise Bartakke (as Wendy Jo) in particular sparkled with liveliness throughout the show. All together, though, the girls were explosive, and brought the house down with their stunning harmonies in “Somebody’s Eyes.”

Lighting was well-executed, and cyclorama lights were appropriately colored to set the shifting tone of each of the scenes. A particularly notable detail was the use of gobos to create the setting of the church. The set was incredibly versatile, and included multi-functional flats, city buildings that flipped over into church pews, movable staircases, and a circular extension of the stage which conveniently masked the pit orchestra. Set changes were relatively smooth.  

Although there were some issues with projection and temperamental mics, as is the case with many-a-show, the leads especially compensated with unwavering energy. The air crackled with the tension of change and a common desire to just be free to dance, and overall Oakton’s cast effectively captured the message that “heaven helps the man who fights his fear.”