May 23-28, 2022; 2hrs 15min
Will I be kicking off my Sunday shoes and cutting loose?
This throwback to the 1980s – complete with shoulder pads and flared skirts – has already been very successful in its translation from screen to stage. Selladoor has a reputation for solid productions so yes, I was singing and dancing in the car on the way home; well, singing anyway...
The production is fast-moving and energetic, with excellent choreography and slick scene changes that offer really good entertainment – and that story, beloved of many film fans.
Seeing a group of young people dancing to lively music conjures up natural enthusiasm – just like it did for Fame and Dirty Dancing from the same era, and this energy translates well to the stage. But there is much more to this production than fun and feelgood dance and song. Critics have dismissed the storyline of the film as banal and predictable, but the immediacy of the stage helps to bring this to life and makes some interesting points.
Ren, (Josh Hawkins) moves from Chicago to small town Iowa in the heart of the Bible Belt. Missing an absent father, which provokes profound teenage angst, he rails against a town that has banned dancing in response to a tragedy in which four young people died. His main adversary is a charismatic preacher (Ben Barrow) who controls the town council and who himself is grief-stricken. His doctrinaire response to this tragedy effectively keeps the town stuck in a time warp, unable to move on.
This is no idle conflict. The play and film are based on an actual case in which dancing had been banned, in Elmore City, Oklahoma in 1862 until 1980, when a group of seniors launched a campaign to change the outmoded law. The story also highlights a faith dilemma. What is the best way to promote freedom, especially for young people, while maintaining some moderation to prevent excess and exploitation?
The fear in Elmore is that dancing in the streets would lead to dancing in the sheets and a litany of unwanted pregnancy. As highlighted by the attempts at prohibition in USA, banning an activity does not prevent it but drives it underground. The key is to allow freedom of expression yet add protection for the vulnerable.
The play picks nicely through criticising a controlling faith without being offensive. It does justice to Biblical teaching on dancing, highlights the positive impact of faith on an individual, yet condemns overly-restrictive rules. It also comments on the role of women – how sometimes against their instinct and better judgment, they are forced to stay silent. There is more to this story than meets the eye.
Having said that, the show is a real crowd-pleaser; the cast performs with great enthusiasm and captures the audience, especially with an energetic-packed finale and curtain call that on opening night had people on their feet – and no doubt singing the songs in the car on the way home...
Info and tickets here