Saturday, August 06, 2005

REV: Footloose at SSAustin

This review is in progress

It was a bit of coincidental timing that between interviews this weekend i was able to fit in a show – the two most attractive choices were the IMAX film Pulse at the Texas State History Museum and the SummerStockAustin performance of Footloose at Mary Moody Northen Theatre at St. Edwards.

Well, Footloose would not have been a choice of mine – the repertory presentation was Much Ado – i had been reading about SummerStock and was intrigued by the idea. That being that an area-wide theatre education project involving high school and college undergrads would work all summer in the staging of a pair of shows – the aforementioned two – under the tutelage of Broadway and Shakespeare professionals.

So i chose to go to St. Ed’s for the evening.

As i said Footloose is not real high on my list of things i would choose to see, but this show was worth every minute.

Before i pile on the kudos let me get the critiques out of the way. There are only three specific gripes i have – all technical.

The worst first – the sound was atrocious. I didn’t want to pile on if a student was involved in this, but it’s impossible to tell from the program – there is only credit for design and not for running sound so i don’t know who’s to blame here. Nevertheless the entire show was brought down a big notch by this.

First, the body mikes did not seem to operate well when the dancers/actors were on the floor. On the upper decks the audio was brilliant (in the bright) sense and made us all aware of what we were missing in the 66% of the show that was stage center. Second, there were constant bumps and pops, huge ones, ones that hurt the ears. Some of these came from the live band booth (one would think the bass player was experienced enough to know to crank the knob down before pulling a plug), but other came from the board. Third, the balance on the sound cues was so grossly different that some cues – the school bell notably shook the chairs. Hardly a person in the house wasn’t holding their ears. It was brutal. Now that is solved in the months of prep by either a) recording the cues at the relative levels necessary to play them without having to be on top of each cue, or b) having someone run the sound who has played and adjusted the sound on the board such that the cues balance. It really simple.

The other technical complaints now seem quaint – lighting cues and blocking – such that i’d pass them over, except this is about education and the folks, pros once again, in charge of these things should have known and taught better.

The lights were not awful, but either the robots on the overhead follows were out of kink, or the actors were not taught to find the light. I think it might have been a little of both.

The blocking was particularly unnerving, although minor. And i might say that much of the blocking was very well done. But three or four times, groups of non-center actors stood in such a way as to block several people in the front rows from seeing the main scene. This would be easily corrected by a shift of a few feet to the walkway corners. Since this was done numerous times, i fail to see what it wasn’t consistently done. In any case there were several scenes where patrons had to crane well left or right to see what was happening.

Now the good stuff.

The kids were remarkable. There was some exceptional talent on display, led by the Ren MacCormick of the moment – of St. Andrews School.

Now, it’s always hard to find a group of folks (especially forty some from one region) who can all act, dance and sing. But there’s a passel of them here.

If there were a weakness at all, it’s that the dancing skills of most were not in the fantastic range – but you’d probably not catch that if you didn’t know some technical details, and weren’t focusing on individuals. The credit for making all the dance scenes so seamless must go to Broadway choreographer Robin Lewis.

The dance scenes, critical to pulling off this rather slight story, were tight, featured the best dancers in the front views and were exceptionally well fit to the character of the space, which is not roomy in the sense of space built for dance. In all, an exceptional job of training and working these young dancers.

There were some outstanding voices as well.


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