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Back to the 80s

March 30, 2009

It’s reasonably safe to say I can’t stand musicals.  The songs are typically lame, the stories make no sense whatsoever, the acting is usually poor, and basically, I just can’t suspend my disgust of the ridiculous notion of people spontaneously breaking out into song and dance in the most un-… um… un-song-and-dancey situations.  Like a farm in Oklahoma.  Or a women’s prison.  Yeah, THAT happens every day up there at Dwight Correctional Center.  When they can squeeze it in between shankings and yard fights.

At least with some musicals, the songs are at least tolerable and/or the story is relatively easy to follow.  “Grease” and “Miss Saigon” are the two main examples I can think of.  I let Dawn take me to see “Miss Saigon” at the beautiful Fox theater in St. Louis, and I actually enjoyed it.  Mainly because I could actually follow the story.  And then, of course everyone knows about “Grease”.  Granted, I’m FAR more partial to the movie than any of the musicals, but that’s not the point.

So what is the point?

The point is that I went to see a musical this past weekend- twice- that was incredible.

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The musical in question was called “Back to the 80s“, a musical written by Neil Gooding.  Saving myself a lot of typing- and you a lot of reading- I’ll basically sum it up by saying it’s the story of a 30-something guy looking back at his high school years at William Ocean High School in the decade of Reaganomics, wearing Polo shirts under oxfords, and the Smurfs.  One of the big things about the principal characters is that we could all identify someone from our own class repesentative of each:  the prom queen, the stud jock that liked himself even more than the girls liked him, the brainy guy.  The musical contains lots of pop-culture references that middle-aged old farts like me, who were in high school in those days (SSHS Class of ’84, thank you!), would appreciate- the name of the high school being one itself.  The names of the characters themselves are an example:  Cyndi Gibson, Alf Bueller, Kirk Keaton, Sheena Brannigan.  I’m guessing that of all the jokes and anachronistic references being told on stage, the kids performing them probably didn’t get at least a quarter of them, at least at first.

The musical features roughly a couple dozen of the top cheesiest pop hits of the 80s, from “Footloose” to “Never Gonna Give You Up” to the predictably present “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”.  Now if you don’t particularly like 80s cheese, then I imagine this show was difficult to sit through.  Myself, I love 80s cheese- many of you would likely be appalled, yet probably not particularly surprised- at my iTunes collection.  Bottom line, the musical was a lot of fun, as long as one can suspend one’s preconceptions about musicals.

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That would typically have been much harder for me to do, were it not for the fact that my niece Erin was in it.  That’s right, this show was not done by some traveling theater troupe, or by “professional” singers and dancers.  It was done right here in Springfield by students in the Choral Music Department at Sacred-Heart Griffin High School.  (Forgive me if I occasionally just call it “Griffin”, but even though it’s been nearly 20 years since the two schools merged, I still consider them separate entities.)  Note before I get started:  I’m a little disappointed at the SJ-R for not mentioning ANYTHING about the shows, that I ever saw.  These kids deserved a lot of credit for the hard work.  Anyway…

Holy crap, this was great, folks.  Dawn and I went to Opening Night on Thursday, and then we took Ian to the Saturday matinee.  Opening Night, you could tell that the jitters were there.  There were a couple line flubs and what not, but I think it was compounded by the fact that the audience seemed to have an “uptightness” about it.  Maybe that was due to Opening Night as well, but my sister said that the kids were much more relaxed, and the audience much more energetic, at the Friday night show.  I certainly saw a difference at Saturday’s matinee.

I hate not being able to mention everyone by name because that would be unfair to those I left out, because everyone- from the principals down to the extras- did an outstanding job.  However, there are a few that I feel deserve some extra recognition.

First and foremost would have to be “Corey Palmer Jr.”, played beautifully by Connor Fahey.  Connor not only has an amazing singing voice- one of the best I’ve heard in a kid so young in a long time- as was evidenced on many numbers (most specifically, the male part on “Total Eclipse of the Heart”), but I felt he has a real gift of stage presence.  He really looked comfortable up there and it seemed as though he just has a gift of comic mannerisms and facial expressions that really added a lot to the show’s enjoyment for me.  His little groove during the combined “Come On Eileen/Don’t Worry Be Happy” was great to listen to and a LOT of fun to watch, and the liberties he took on the Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” was great.

Next would be “Tiffany Houston” (get it?!), played by Kelsi Frost.  She too had an outstanding voice.  The way she belted out “Lost in Your Eyes” with Laura Tisckos (“Eileen Reagan”) was amazing.  Well, both girls were incredible.  See, this is why I’m not a reviewer by trade- by gushing over one, I’m unfairly short-changing the other.  Kelsi has a very strong voice without being one of those hard-to-listen-to squeals.  (cough*Streisand*cough)

“Cyndi Gibson” was apparently the “class tramp” character- she dated every member of the football team, and she felt that men were “like used cars:  easy to get, unreliable, and cheap”.  Kari Kelley did a fantastic job of portraying “Cyndi” as a real… well, you know.  Kari also has a good strong voice, and her rendition of Madonna’s “Material Girl” was nearly spot-on.  Strangely enough, Kari bears a very striking resemblance to another 80s “icon” (and, presumably, half of the inspiration for her character’s name), Debbie Gibson.

Then there were “Laura Wilde” and “Debbie Fox”, the best friends that didn’t quite fit in with any other “clique” in school.  Brittany Idusuyi (“Laura”) and Cara Workman (“Debbie”) were terrific in their portrayals of “Laura” and “Debbie” as two really geeky, awkward girls.  I’ve never been a fan of DeNiece Williams’ “Let’s Hear It for the Boy”, but Brittany and Cara, along with Laura, nailed it.  Extra points to Cara for speaking perhaps the best line of the show:  “The only difference between you and a bucket of crap is… is… the BUCKET!!”

If nothing else, the “good sport” award has to go to Jacob Deters, who played BMOC “Michael Feldman”.  He gave a great performance as “Michael”, the guy that all the girls loved- and knew it.  There was a scene in which “Michael” gets slapped by both “Eileen” and “Tiffany”.  On Opening Night, Laura slapped him in a typical “theater slap”, but Kelsi absolutely clocked him.  Her slap resonated throughout the auditorium and was almost felt by the entire audience.  Jacob STILL had a red mark on his cheek during the closing number, at least a good 15-20 minutes later.  I’m not sure whether she was “supposed” to hit him that hard, but it sure looked like Jacob wasn’t expecting it to be that hard!

Also deserving mention, among others, are Mary Rita McKenna (“Ms. Sheena Brannigan”), Mark Ofreneo (the brainiac “Feargal McFerrin III”), and Landon Conrad (“Huey Jackson”), who was great in his channeling [80s-era] Michael Jackson.  Again, I’m sorry to not have mentioned everyone by name- they ALL deserve the recognition- but PLEASE do not take the omission as an oversight.  You all did a stellar job and should be extremely proud.

Saving the best for last, I need to give extra-special recognition to my lovely niece, Erin Lokaitis.  She didn’t have a speaking role, but she was listed as “Female Featured Soloist” for Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”.  She sang a couple of lines by herself- she wasn’t mic’ed, but I think she projected her voice far better than those that were.  Yes, there is some level of bias here, but Erin has a very, VERY powerful, beautiful voice.  (SIDE NOTE: During the Saturday matinee, attended by not only Dawn, Ian, and me but also by my brother Jeff, his wife Kathy, and their oldest, Quinn, when Erin sang her first line, Kathy squealed out a LOUD shriek of support.  I don’t know which was more comical- the scream, Erin nearly busting up laughing, or Jeff cowering in embarrassment.)  Again, my bias is probably showing, but I really think, given Erin’s vocal capabilities, she really should have been given a larger role.  Perhaps next year when she’s a senior, she’ll be able to have a bigger part.  She really deserves to be able to showcase her singing ability, and the audience deserves to be able to hear it.

As I said, I apologize for the rather crappy job of reviewing the show- Nick Rogers I ain’t- but I do want to reiterate my disappointment in the SJ-R for not covering it.  If they did, I obviously missed it, but I don’t recall seeing any mention of the show all weekend.  The kids worked their asses off for two months and put on an absolutely amazing show that was a lot of fun.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Kristen permalink
    March 31, 2009 6:15 pm

    Sure wish I lived closer so I could have seen Erin perform. #1, I LOVE musicals. #2, the few times I have had the good fortune to spend time with my Illinois cousins, I have gotten to hear that sweet angel voice sing. Give her my congrats! Love, K

  2. SpringfieldZebra permalink
    April 1, 2009 7:30 am

    Johann,

    Great review!! It couldn’t have been done any better by Unpainted Huffines himself. In fact, after revising a few unjournalistic words (there probably isn’t any such word as “unjournalistic”), your review could very easily have been published by the SJ-R. Your description of the main characters’ performances was right on.

    Being the proud Grandpa that I am, you absolutely nailed Erin’s performance. Even though her “featured solo” consisted of only a couple of lines, it was “totally awesome.” It brought tears to my eyes in all three performances I attended.

  3. Marjorie permalink
    April 1, 2009 4:10 pm

    Great review! What’s with the SJ-R, anyway? I didn’t tire of seeing it all 3 times, and not just because of Erin, but that helped. :^)

  4. April 1, 2009 6:21 pm

    Kristen: You would have LOVED it, and not just because of Erin’s performance.

    SPI Zebra: Thanks, but I still think I’ve got way too sour an overall attitude to be considered for the SJ-R, even if they took reader submissions. (Hence why they never print my letters.) But I felt the same way about Erin’s all-too-brief solo.

    Marjorie: I would have thought they’d at least have reviewed one of the shows. Even a two-line blurb about it or SOMETHING. Like I said, I was VERY disappointed that there was no mention at all the entire weekend.

  5. April 2, 2009 11:31 am

    Juan, nice job. The week was great for me (and I LOVE musicals, by the way). My faves are “Fiddler,” “Saigon,” “Cats,” “Sound of Music,” “My Fair Lady,” “Funny Girl,” “A Chorus Line,” “King & I,” etc., etc. etc. (to steal a line from the latter).

    I got to see the SHG show 3 times, and I’m with Marj, I loved all of them, equally, each time I went. It was well-acted, well-directed, well-choreographed, and the set was great–in fact, I think, like good wine, for me, the whole production got better with age.

    I also got to watch Erin’s sis, Kathleen, help her team win 4 of the 4 volleyball matches I saw. Those kids, too, are having so much healthy fun. What a treat to witness!

    What a kick it all was to see my Illinois chil’en in action, let alone all the other Stearns kids, their parents and grandparents.

    Being a retired high school teacher, myself, it was a most refreshing experience to observe (and to be reminded of) the awesomeness of talented high school and junior high school kids “doing their thing,” and obviously enjoying playing and performing as much as the many audiences enjoyed watching. I think I’ve seen well over 30 high school musicals and the same number of HS volleyball matches while working at San Jose’s Oak Grove HS, and most were exceptionally stellar, and “Back to the 80’s” and those 4 VB matches were as good as, if not better than, most of those.

    Thanks, too, Juan, for the lift to the airport (as well as to your pops for the ride to Springfield), and to the entire Stearns clan for a hosting a super week for me!

  6. Johann permalink
    April 2, 2009 5:38 pm

    UP: Let me assure you I’m harping neither on musicals nor the people who like them. They’re just not for me. Given the opportunity, I’d go see Phantom of the Opera, simply because it’s Phantom of the Opera, but I’m not one to get excited about Les Miserables or Sunset Blvd. or whatever opening up at a theater house near me. Truth be told, I wish I had the talent required to be in a musical, but that’s my issue. Again, I just can’t get past the whole spontaneous song and dance thing. Also my issue.

    Anyhooze, I agree with you: I saw two shows, and the second time was even more enjoyable than the first. Erin (and all those other kids!) did an outstanding job and should be nothing but proud.

    Even though it was too short, it was great getting to see you again. I’m glad you could make it. And it was my pleasure taking you to the airport. Great talk we had- you and I don’t get much one-on-one time!

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