The Bohemians are one of Edinburgh’s most notable amateur musical companies, who every year put on a large-scale production at the King’s Theatre with over 50 cast members. This year they’ve gone with Footloose: The Musical, which follows teenage boy Ren (Ross MacPherson) whose father has left him and his mother, forcing them to move from the city to his aunt and uncle’s in Bomont, a town where dancing has been banned thanks to a slightly tyrannical Reverend (Christopher Cameron). Ariel (Felicity Thomas) is the Reverend’s daughter and rebels against his control. She and Ren eventually hit it off, and together help to open the minds and hearts of the people of Bomont to the joys of dancing. The plot isn’t particularly riveting and is chockablock with tropes and clichés – from the new kid at school, to the dumb country bumpkin, to the girl who eats a lot – so the audience hangs on the song and dance numbers which the Bohemians deliver with talent and enthusiasm.
The two leads MacPherson and Thomas are talented all-round performers. MacPherson’s flair for dancing was made clear from the get-go with I Can’t Stand Still. In terms of singing, the girls steal the show with Somebody’s Eyes and Learning to be Silent, both showing off the ability of all the women in the main cast. Cathy Geddy as Ariel’s mother was flawless, from her voice to her characterisation, and it’s a shame we don’t get to see (and hear!) more of her. Charlotte Jones as Rusty was also a standout performance, her powerful vocals and energetic characterisation frequently stealing the audience’s attention. Rusty and Willard’s (Thomas McFarlane) quirky relationship is a highlight with Let’s Hear It for the Boy, easily one of the best songs in the show. Willard provides much amusement: Mama Says, a song about all the advice his mother has given him from ‘don’t use a toaster while standing in the shower’ to ‘don’t buy your chandelier unless you’ve got a ceiling’, is the show’s comic highpoint. Holding Out For A Hero was given the spectacle that the anthem deserves. And although it is hard to be sure what the pole-dancing men in American flag unitards are meant to represent, they sure are amusing … As a whole, the musical is ideal for showing off as much of the talented cast as possible with lots of different roles getting a chance to show off their voices.
The King’s Theatre stage is a challenge to fill with set, and Footloose is a demanding show with a lot of different settings. However, Scenic Projects have provided a multitude of vibrant set pieces from a school corridor full of lockers, to a classic eighties diner and a railway bridge. The costumes were also brilliant, and much credit should go to Andrew Layton, the wardrobe manager. The denim jackets and big hair perfectly evoke the eighties without being over the top. Along with the set and costume, the dancing helps make the show a treat for the eyes as well as the ears. The choreography is done by Dominic Lewis, who also choreographed 9 to 5 for the Bohemians last year and has worked with EUSOG. The play includes a lot of huge dance numbers which although messy at times, have strong impact.
The acting did not match up to the singing and dancing and was the production’s weakest aspect, as is often the case with musical theatre. Timing is occasionally off and the dialogue was lacking energy for the first few scenes. Cameron is unconvincing as the severe authority figure, and the same applies to the school headmaster (actor’s name). One thing the plot succeeds with, is that the Reverend’s behaviour is given more explanation and justification than expected – Ariel explains that her father ‘used to be inspiring before he closed his mind’. The audience soon finds out that the reason for this is that he lost a son. The emotional plotline does sit slightly oddly with the upbeat musical feel, and could have been navigated by the company better. Reverend Moore’s change of heart throughout the show would have been a lot more potent if he’d had a harder shell from the outset.
One doesn’t realise just how huge the cast is until the curtain call, when everyone only just fits on the stage. The back of the programme asks in large letters ‘Want to become a Bohemian?’ and it is clear how welcoming and inclusive a company it is. For amateur musical theatre the production really holds its own, and I look forward to seeing what their 2019 show will be!