Darren has a grey Day as he plays the fun-banning Reverend in Footloose The Musical

Grey hair, goatee beard: The new look for Darren Day as Reverend Moore in Footloose The Musical

DOYEN of the musicals Darren Day’s debut at York Theatre Royal is an act of faith: he is playing Reverend Shaw Moore in Footloose The Musical until Saturday.

“I really feel this is transitional role for me,” says Darren, who has 29 years in musicals behind him at the age of 53. “I had breakfast last Thursday with Robbie Williams’s dad, [pub and club cabaret comedian and singer] Pete Conway, who came to see the show in Stoke, and he was saying exactly that.

“I’ve let the grey come through in my hair and I’ve grown a goatee beard for the role. Funnily enough, I was told I was too young for such roles when I went to see the producers of Footloose and Chicago within about three months of each other 12 years ago.

“I was thinking, ‘I’d love to play Reverend Moore and lawyer Billy Flynn’, but both producers said ‘not yet’, and they’ve both been on my bucket list of roles I’ve desperately wanted to play ever since, and now I’ve got the opportunity to play them both in one year, it’s incredibly exciting for me.”

Chicago was a joy for Darren and now he is settling into Racky Plews’s touring production of Footloose, the show based on the 1984 film, the one with such hits as Holding Out For A Hero, Almost Paradise, Let’s Hear It For The Boy and the title track, wherein American teenage city boy Ren McCormack is forced to move from Chicago to the rural backwater of Bomont after his father deserts him.

Things go from bad to worse when Ren finds out that dancing and rock music are banned there, but taking matters into his own hands, he soon has all hell breaking loose and the whole town on its feet. 

I’m so happy to be playing the Reverend,” says Darren. “I’m 53 now, I’ve been doing musical theatre for 29 years, so I’d always be grateful to playing these iconic roles, but on the back of Covid closing down theatres, I’m even more grateful. Being offered two six-month contracts at 53, I walk into the theatre everyday feeling so lucky.”

He is not alone, he says: “There’s gratitude with all of us in the company, a new-found gratitude for being able to perform again. Having done six months of Chicago and a few weeks of Footloose, it feels like how it must felt after the war, when people had been deprived of socialising and live entertainment.

“On the first night of Chicago, when the band struck up, the cheer that went up was like nothing I’d heard before. There’s a different feel now to performances, a sense of magic coming from the audience, as not that long ago none of us knew when life would be going back to some form of normality.”

Darren believes Racky Plews’s Footloose show is particularly special. “Even if you have seen it before, you will want to see it again, and this new version will blow you away. It’s been reworked with a new set, new costumes. The lot,” he says.

The tour poster for Racky Plews’s touring production of Footloose The Musical featuring a new set, new costumes…and a new-look Darren Day

“Racky has brought an edgy and exciting new take on the show. She’s been working closely with the writer of the original movie and songs, Dean Pitchford, and his input into this new production has been invaluable.”

Darren can draw on his own experiences to play the Reverend, whose daughter, Ariel, wants to break away: “Having a teenage daughter myself in real life, I have a lot of ‘method’ experience I can call on. It’s tough letting your ‘little princess’ out into the big bad world!” he says.

“She’s 15, she’s going out with boys now and wants me to order things for her off the Pretty Little Thing website, where everything is too short, too tight!”

In Footloose, the Reverend’s son, Bobby, has died in a drink and drug-fuelled car accident, whereupon he bans dancing in Bomont. “It’s not an easy role playing the Reverend,” says Darren. “It’s almost like I have to play it over-seriously for it to work. It wouldn’t work if I didn’t commit to it, but even with rowdy crowds, the emotional moments seem to be paying off.”

He is taking to being the old hand in the company. “In this cast, I’m more like the grandad as they’re so young. That’s why it really is the transitional gig for me. I feel so flattered to be working with all these young people around me,” says Darren.

“I was called ‘theatre royalty’ on a TV interview recently and ‘stage veteran’ in a review, and when I hear things like that, without sounding old school, I think that in the last few months, certainly with the impact of Covid, there does seem to be quite a lot of change affecting people.

“Like, I went through changes in my personal life, but now I’m embracing being in the position of the one who passes on advice.”

Darren’s song in the spotlight is Heaven Help Me. “It could be the title of my autobiography!” he says. “It’s not one of the big songs in the show, and that’s a first for me, when even in Chicago I had Razzle Dazzle.

“I just have to play it the right way, getting the mood right and not looking to bring the house down. What I have to do is pull off the acting, and it seems to be working.”

An act of faith, indeed, for Darren’s Reverend.

Footloose gotta cut loose at York Theatre Royal until April 2; 7.30pm nightly; 2pm, Thursday; 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.