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Cast kicks life into soppy Footloose

n Footloose by Dean Pitchford and Tom Snow, an Exit 22 production at Capilano University to April 3. Box office: 604-990-7810.

n Footloose by Dean Pitchford and Tom Snow, an Exit 22 production at Capilano University to April 3. Box office: 604-990-7810.

Why is the title song of this movie-turned-musical remembered so well, when nobody knows any of the lyrics except "Footloose, footloose. . . ."?

Who knew two notes could be so catchy? My wife has been singing them so relentlessly since the opening night of Footloose at Cap U that I'm about ready to cut loose. Still, credit this slick, high-energy Cap production for planting the mental mantra that won't shut up.

Just like Fame (released in 1980), 1984's Footloose was a dance movie with music. Many will recall a young Kevin Bacon as the lead, but who remembers Sarah Jessica Parker in the role of Rusty? The dancing carries the movie, but when it was adapted for the stage in 1998 little effort was made to make the thin plot line credible.

We meet teenager Ren McCormack in Chicago as he breaks the news that he and his mom are off to the Midwest town of Bomont, Nowhereio, for a fresh start after his dad has walked out on him and his mother for no good reason. Needless to say, Ren's abandonment issues will come into play before the show is done.

Cut to Bomont, where Ren's uncle, a minister who is also the political power on town council, has given them lodging. It transpires that the very reverend Shaw Moore and his loyal wife Vi are coping with the loss of their son in a car accident following drinking and dancing. Rather than police underage drinking, Rev. Moore has somewhat less obviously banned dancing and is preaching against the pornography of rock 'n' roll -- disco never having reached the Midwest apparently.

The Shaws have a beautiful (of course) daughter, Ariel, who likes to shout at trains and is engaging in her own private rebellion by dating the school jerk. No prizes for guessing which angel Ren falls for.

Ren, who a) likes dancing, b) is in the only town in America where teens follow the rules, and c) likes to speak his mind to authority figures, soon has plans for prom night. He rallies his school and only has to persuade town council to get with the times -- or at least allow a grad dance in the gym.

Yup, there's more corn in Bomont, Nowhereio, than in all of Ohio and Idaho combined.

But, you know, it doesn't matter. If a production of Footloose gets the right mix of singing, dancing and acting, the show can work on sheer energy.

And this Exit 22 production gets it right -- or at least from the Burger Blast scene on, the opening numbers being somewhat muted, in part because Kevin Michael Cripps' hot little band masked under-miked vocals on opening night.

Nolan Wilson's Ren McCormack has one of the weaker voices in the cast and is still learning to dance, but his acting is good enough that we are willing to overlook the fact that he is no triple threat. Whatever else isn't quite there, Wilson's coltish Ren is instantly likeable and that quality is what pulls the audience in.

Wilson gets amazing support from Jak Barradell as Willard the lumbering cowpoke with two left feet who turns out to have the best moves in the house -- a fact that Shelley Stewart Hunt's choreography sensibly takes advantage of.

Barradell could be the next triple threat to emerge from Cap's successful musical theatre program, but he may well be accompanied by Brittany Scott, who plays Willard's gal Rusty and has a show-stopper of a voice. Megan Bayliss (Ariel) and Kathy Fitzpatrick (Vi Moore) are not far behind, with Fitzpatrick easily finding the maturity to play an older -- and affecting -- role.

There's lots more to admire here, but I don't think the hair (not enough), costumes (Bomont's a backwater -- Chicago isn't) and set (a fly piece or two short) quite support the level of achievement on stage. Credit director Gillian Barber for her cast's excellent commitment (one nit: she should move that scene in front of the stage back onto it). Watch the actors in the smaller chorus roles, most are not just in the moment, but living and dying there.