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The Gospel Of Blue Suede Shoes 

Shakin' it loose at CP Summer Theatre

Miracles continue as CP Summer Theatre's 30th season reaches a raucous climax. Two weeks ago, an audience returned from intermission and applauded the scenery change, when prosperity succumbed to heaven's wrath in God's Favorite. Old Testament prophets would surely be inspired by the current goings on at panoramic Pease Auditorium when the cast members of Footloose take their bows.Even that celebrated lion-lamb accord is eclipsed. And the bluehairs shall scream like teenyboppers.

Sober analysis might have us wondering whether there's just cause for such wild pensioner enthusiasm. We're gathered once again on that pristine shore bordering the polluted ocean of adulthood. As always, teenagers tentatively dip their toes into the fearsome depths of sexuality, career and community. But in Bomont, where dancing is outlawed, pubescent girls and boys can't get their feet entirely wet. Barring their path is the ultra-paternal Reverend Shaw Moore, fiercely brandishing his bible while a burning grief corrodes his heart.

Transplanting their mid-western Dullsville from screenplay to musical, Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie bring little freshness to the Bomont teens' quest for freedom when it really counts. Doling out composing chores to a committee of songwriters, they lose control of their storytelling down the homestretch.

Our hero Ren McCormack starts out promisingly enough as a free-spirited outsider from Chicago. Because Ren and his mom were abandoned by his father, he can empathize with the Rev's loss of a son. Ren's crusade for a senior prom catapults him to teen leadership and wins him the affection of the Rev's resentful daughter Ariel. But Ren's climactic plea to the Bomont Town Council for repeal of the hateful anti-dance law, laced with scriptural references spoon-fed to him by Ariel, is the lamest of hip-hop harangues. The trio of teen thugs who torment the couple, blackening Ren's eye and then Ariel's, is basically forgotten during the general jubilation and rejuvenation.

Cliches are strewn like land mines along the way. We must endure Ren's mother and the Rev's wife commiserating in a duet about the necessity of holding your tongue in adversity. So 50s. Later, there's an even more excruciating solo from the Rev's wife, pining for the return of the tenderhearted husband she used to know before they lost their son.

Overall, the bluehairs' screams are vindicated because CP's youthful cast soars over the trite terrain as if propelled by magic shoes. Make those blue suede shoes for us midlife rockers.

Eddie Mabry is definitely in a youthful rockin' mode choreographing the lively ensembles, spicing up his winsome line dancing and break dancing routines with some joyous gymnastic tumbling. With Buddy Hammonds as Ren, even our hero gets into the more challenging action. The falsetto end of his vocals needs much more help from the sound booth, but Hammonds handles Ren's renegade attitude and confrontations with just the right edge.

Kendra Goehring isn't as charismatic as Ariel, but the teen vocal trio behind her is doo-wop dynamite. With a high end powerful enough to shake the old folks' dentures, Alex Ellis is the standout backup in the rousing "Holding Out for a Hero." Then as Rusty, Ariel's most rambunctious crony, Ellis gets to step forward with "Let's Hear It for the Boy."

Willard, the nerdy mama's boy that Rusty puts her moves on, transforms nicely into a dancing fool in Chris Gleim's outsized portrayal. The transformation of Rev. Moore is handled with greater subtlety -- and power -- by the venerable Stephen Ware. Even in his darker moments, when Ware is looking and sounding a bit like Sen. Joe McCarthy, there's a redeeming thread of pious humility.

You won't be wowed by Robert Croghan's set or costumes, but there's plenty of sizzle from the pit under Bill Congdon's musical direction. Tom Vance doesn't push all the right buttons as he did directing Tommy five years ago. But he pushes enough of them to ensure a screaming success.

Retro met techno at the unlikeliest new stage venue as the first live webcast of a Charlotte theater production was attempted at 8:34pm last Friday. Your intrepid critic was at Ground Zero witnessing CSCi Multimedia's first presentation of Actor's Scene Unseen at the LavaJava Coffee House up in the wilds of W.T. Harris Boulevard. While I watched two short plays over an iced grande coffee concoction, my wife Sue was deployed back home at her desktop computer attempting to be among the pioneers who caught the historic first web flight at www.actorssceneunseen.com.Finding Janelle by Michael Davidson and Perishable by Terri Collin were preceded by preternaturally glib interviews with the playwrights by host Francene Marie Morris. Confounding my expectations for this thrilling return to the days of radio drama, actresses Della Freedman and Elizabeth Peterson-Vita stepped up to the microphones without scripts in hand!

Freedman, wielding a Brooklyn accent as Mona, was the more credible of the two elderly women in Janelle who find themselves at the wrong funeral parlor. Had she been armed with a script, Peterson-Vita's cue pick-up might have quickened as Evelyn, the prim neighbor at the retirement village who has issues with death -- and flatulence.

Future broadcasts would benefit from more liberal usage of playscripts during performance -- and from a director who might signal the playwrights to belly up to their microphones during interviews. Presumably, we can look forward to better radio-style acting when others besides Freedman are featured. In Perishable, the 30-something Ellenore, losing herself in maudlin post-funeral memories of Mama, was barely distinguishable from the 60-something Mona we'd just encountered.

The outcome in cyberspace was much bleaker on opening night. Sue's vigil at www.actorssceneunseen.com was rewarded with total silence. An electrical storm was fingered as the culprit in an SOS email from CSCi, but when I took over at my laptop the following afternoon, the promised rebroadcast never hit the air. Finally on Sunday afternoon, shortly after 5pm, there was lift-off in cyberspace and the Actor's Scene Unseen website took its rightful place beside Kitty Hawk.

New programs are planned every two weeks. Local playwrights Stan Peal and Anne Marie are next in the LavaJava lineup at 8:30 on August 1. Be there. Or log on.

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