FOOTLOOSE at The Eagle Theatre — Pure Dynamite and Nitroglycerin!

by Jack Shaw

The Eagle Theatre in Hammonton, NJ, believes there is no show that can’t be dynamite and nitroglycerin—no matter how dated, no matter how mixed the show’s Broadway reviews. So, the theatre has no doubt they can take a musical like FOOTLOOSE–one that received mixed reviews on Broadway, contained only two memorable songs and a weak plot, and nominated for four Tony Awards and winning none–and make it a tremendous hit. And, they did!

This is a theatre with attitude and abundant talent. Its driven and talented casts are built it seems to exist on stage forever rather than borrowing it for tonight’s show. The music and sound, as always, is loud, vibrant. The brilliant lights pinpoint the action. The set is ready for action. Shows at The Eagle Theatre are not just good; they generally explode with high energy.

If you’ve been there before, you know how it will be. That’s why you picked this theatre. That’s why you come back time and time again. You know you can count on a quality performance whatever the show. It doesn’t matter. It can be a musical like this one, a music revue, or a platform for comedy or drama.

Members of the cast of FOOTLOOSE - onstage now at The Eagle Theatre in Hammonton, NJ. (Photo credit: Chris Miller)

Members of the cast of FOOTLOOSE – onstage now at The Eagle Theatre in Hammonton, NJ. (Photo credit: Chris Miller)

When the music fills your ears, the songs rhythm pounds on your chest, the highly energetic dancing thrills you, and the acting leaves you laughing or teary-eyed, you know this is amazing theatre.

The Eagle Theatre’s production of FOOTLOOSE, directed and choreographed by Dan Dunn, is an explosive hit!

The highest quality of music, sound and lights is the theatre standard. The Eagle Theatre, with its smaller stage, means that actors are singing and dancing up close–in your face. You experience theatre. You can’t help being affected by the emotion and drawn into the action. Dunn’s superior choreography is as three-dimensional as the set; he has directed his actors around the stage to be where they need to be. Even the scene changes seem choreographed, too, with actors finishing their assigned task and sitting at the same time. There is a rhythm even in scene changes.

The metal set may be puzzling to the average theatre-goers at first. That is until they see it arranged in an array of forms and used to create three-dimensional scenes, steps, balconies and even walls. Your imagination can fill in the blanks easily. Sets are changed quickly and smoothly right in front of you. Even the metal framework is reconfigured.

At this outing, FOOTLOOSE is explosive. The songs, Broadway critics didn’t care for, become just as memorable as the hit songs the general public knows. The show has attitude now, new meaning; the actors are perfect, a little old if you try to take them as high school kids, but that doesn’t matter. You make that leap with grace. There is tremendous talent honed and practiced to the point the company is synchronized like a chorus in harmony. No one ever seems to be in the wrong place and has to adjust. The leads are made for each other; in fact, all the actors wear their characters well becoming someone else. The right people sing the right songs as the dancers and background singers make good use of the three-dimensional set. As much effort has gone into making the other actors a good fit with the leads, too.

Most of the cast of FOOTLOOSE had never worked in this theatre before, but they are obviously dedicated professionals. I hope we see these fine performers again. Their performances as well as Dunn’s choreography is what made The Eagle Theatre’s FOOTLOOSE a unforgettable experience. The dancing is incredible—flawless even. I was moved by the songs—all of them, not just the two hits, which had that extra advantage of familiarity, too. The acting in a musical often gets short shrift. Here the acting as powerful as it gets.

The signature song, Footloose, sung by the entire company was breath-taking. Kimberly Suskind (Rusty) and the girls singing, “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” has been in my head since the seeing the show. My daughter, Allie said of Kimberly Suskind: “She’s beautiful and amazing!” and that “She’s so good, amazing and I love her hair.” (My daughter is 14 and a stalker of theatre actors, especially actresses she admires. She is so Broadway bound in her mind and heart, her friends call her Miss Allie Shaw.)

Sal Pavia was great lead, not only looking the part, he carried himself well as a leader of the group “Ren,” and performed his part with a natural finesse. He certainly looked like he would be a high school heartthrob and local leader of the pack. My wife remarked that he should keep his hair that way. It was a good look.

Paul Weagraff’s acting and singing were remarkable as Reverend Shaw. He was the reverend and a father through and through, a perfect contrast with Ren. His emotion-filled rendering of “Can You Find It In Your Heart” made the audience take out the tissues.

Cara Noel Antosca’s “Ariel” was not only adorable, but she gave her part extra mention as she acted with her whole body–especially on the three-dimensional set.

I was impressed with Corey John Hafner as the feisty and shy (Willard). By the end of the show, you could imagine a wedding as the chemistry between Rusty and Willard became apparent.

Deborah Jenkins playing “Vi” with stature and subtle empathy, easily established a relationship with the Reverend, and Ren.

But the first player I noticed who really popped on stage was Bethany McCall as “Wendi Jo,” who made her character oddly different by adding a touch here and there of herself.

If there was a Best Musical Award to hand out, The Eagle Theatre’s production would win easily. Here FOOTLOOSE was an immensely satisfying and exhilarating show… What happened on Broadway? Seriously. I think having a smaller stage and using a minimized set, made us focus on the action. It made every number special in a way you can’t see on a regular proscenium stage. When our actors took center stage, they showcased their talent and really shined.

The Men’s Room buzzed with accolades for the show…so it must be great… Well, I couldn’t go in the Ladies Room…or it would be buzzing, too.

FOOTLOOSE at The Eagle Theatre is certainly worth a long drive to see. Please make the effort—if tickets aren’t already sold out.

Book by Dean Pitchford and Kenny Loggins
Lyrics by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie
Music by Tom Snow
Directed and Choreographed by Dan Dunn
January 17 & 18, 23 – 25, 30 & 31,
February 1, 5 – 8 | 8pm
January 19, 26 and February 2 | 3pm
The Eagle Theatre
208 Vine Street – Downtown
Hammonton, NJ 08037


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