If someone could bottle the youthful energy on the stage for Richey Suncoast Theatre's musical Footloose, we wouldn't need any drill, baby, drill.
Choreographer Deborah Oles' high-octane dance moves and director Marie Skelton's high-energy dancers could keep motors running for ages. Add music director Stella Gaukhshteyn's fine little combo and stage manager Liz Onley Waldorf's 17 quick set changes, and you have all you need for an evening of great entertainment.
The heart of the show, however, is 16-year-old Jeffrey Oles, who plays Ren McCormack, a nice, but somewhat mouthy kid yanked from his Chicago home and friends to move to a small, backwater Illinois town with his mom when his dad deserts the family.
Oles is a director's (and audience's) dream, a budding triple threat who makes it look effortless when he sings and dances and digs out true emotions when the moment calls for them. It's hard to believe he's only 16; the timbre of his singing voice sounds more like a 26-year-old.
He's surrounded by a stellar cast, including red-haired Megan Gillespie as Ariel Moore, the preacher's kid who is understandably defiant, and Micah Laird as Ren's new best friend, Willard.
Ms. Gillespie's voice is true and clear and her acting right on the money. Laird is a charmer as the country boy whose idea of getting ready for a big date is to throw a sheet over the seat of his pickup truck to tamp down the smell of his dogs. Laird's boyish, easy-going manner is a joy to watch.
The trio of gal-pals Rusty (Caitlin Ramirez), Urleen (Sandrinne Edstrom) and Wendy Jo (Molly Laird) are so good they could sing on anybody's stage. Their Somebody's Eyes, a warning that the town is always watching, is a terrific number in itself and does double duty as a recurring background theme similar to the chants of a Greek chorus. Their Holding Out for a Hero with Ms. Gillespie's Ariel is an energetic romp.
Ms. Ramirez's giggly, spunky Rusty is eye-popping as she jumps on a table to sing Let's Hear It For the Boy. Ms. Gillespie's Ariel and Oles' Ren bring tears with their tender harmonies in Almost Paradise.
Though singing isn't his strong suit, Jamie McWilliams does a fine job as the Rev. Shaw Moore, the preacher who has talked the town council into banning dances. McWilliams' preacher isn't a stereotypical podium-pounding, spittle-spouting hypocrite; he's a man who has been hurt to the core and is only trying to protect the young people of his community, and McWilliams effectively conveys that air of genuine caring. Anne Lakey is a touching match for him as Vi Moore, the long-suffering preacher's wife torn between her husband and her daughter (Learning to be Silent).
Beverly Plummer is just right as Ren's flashy, hip and very supportive mom, Ethel, her lithe figure and confident moves setting off Ms. Skelton's costumes to the fullest. Keith Surplus, who has shown his talent for comedy in previous roles (Graylag in Honk!, title role in Li'l Abner), shows a whole new side of himself as the thuggy Chuck Cranston, Ariel's trashy, abusive boyfriend.
The 55-member cast adds heft, depth and body to the entire production, with memorable bit parts by several players who show promise — Johnathan Santoni's all-too-brief singing spot as Jeter, as well as his buddies, Marquee Washington as Travis and John-Michael West as Lyle, for example.
The 23-member behind-the-scenes crew makes it all work smoothly, right up to the last well-deserved bow.