There may never be another decade again that so greatly shapes the pop culture world like the 80s. The ramifications of the movies, clothes, technology, TV shows, stars, and, most of all, music continue to shape entertainment world as we know it today.
What was once cool became un-cool, then throwback trendy, hipster chic and dare I say…now cool again. I mean, just look at Star Wars. But what endures most from the 80s, in my opinion, is the music. From pop, rock, heavy metal, soft metal, boy bands, girl bands, rap, RnB…this remains the ultimate music decade.
Written by Neil Gooding and directed by Jordan Vassallo, the team at Packemin Youth Productions successfully bring this music to another generation with Back to The 80’s. Don’t make a mistake, this isn’t to be confused with the other successful 80s jukebox musical, Rock of Ages. Think of Back to the 80’s as its little, innocent sister.
Back to the 80’s transports us to senior year at William Ocean High School, and through the on stage narration of the grown up central character Corey Palmer, we see how his senior year unfolds. Palmer is played by two actors, David Tucker (Into the Words, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat) as Corey Palmer Snr and Lochie Kent (Footloose, Beauty and the Beast) as Corey Palmer Jnr. Tucker immediately reminded me of Alan Tudyk (a comparison I’m sure he has heard before) and Kent could easily pass as an 80s pin up poster boy.
Corey Palmer’s senior class is made up of all of the clichéd high school groups – the nerds, the jocks, the cheerleaders, the popular girls, the loners and the regular kids. Feargal McFerrin III, played by Alex Young (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat) is the lead nerd, the jocks are headed up by Josh Ridge (Beauty and the Beast, High School Musical) as Michael Feldman. Tiffany Houston is portrayed by Lana Domeney (The Wizard of Oz, Annie) captures the heart of both Corey and Michael as the prettiest girl in school. Bringing the adult characters of Mr Cocker and Miss Brannigan to life are special guest star Mark Simpson (Dogfight, Hairspray) and Jocelyn O’Brien (Fame, Legally Blonde).
Each of the main groups have their faithful offsiders – Alf Bueller (Jamie Smith) and Kirk Keaton (Paddy Jenkins) for Corey Palmer; Cindy Gibson (Lucy Clifton), Mel Easton (Megan Walshe) and Kim Easton (Kira Leiva) for Tiffany Houston; Billy Arnold (Cameron Shields), Lionel Astley (Brandon Koollos) and Huey Jackson (Eamon Moses) for Michael Feldman; Laura Wilde (India Morpeth) and Debbie Fox (Eleanor Foster) for Feargal McFerrin III. Rounding out the lead cast is Eileen Regan (Rebecca Spicer).
(Side note: By now you may have noticed a trend with these character names. As I read through the program, I had many giggles at the blending of 80s character names for this show.)
The ensemble is huge, with over 50 talented and enthusiastic youngsters completing the cast. The vast majority of the cast were not born in this decade, but this doesn’t stop their obvious enjoyment of performing these songs and bringing this story to life. It was a great joy to see so many young kids on stage having what looked like an amazing time.
The costumes, hair and makeup completely on point and faithful to the era: all credit to the wardrobe & makeup team, especially when it came time for the prom – all that taffeta! The props – although sparse – were very authentic, even down to Spokey Dokey’s on the bike wheels. Being opening night, there were a few microphone, sound level and lighting missteps which affected the flow of the show just slightly, but I’m sure these will be ironed out.
The main star of the show though is the iconic music. The songs that pretty much everyone knows. To list just a few – “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, “Man In the Mirror”, “500 Miles” (which really got the audience going), “Love Shack”, “Kids In America”, “You Give Love A Bad Name”, “Footloose”, “Material Girl” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go”. I had to stop myself from turning the night into a karaoke session and singing out loud! I really enjoyed the support from the live band, as it added a very authentic element to the evening.
The songs are cleverly woven into the script, which is funny, charming, heartwarming, heartbreaking and chock full of 80s in-jokes and references. Some of which may be lost on younger audiences – and probably some of the cast, but I know I certainly enjoyed all of them!
The choreography is extremely strong, well peformed, and again, faithful to the era. “Material Girl”, “Video Killed the Radio Star” and “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” were just a few highlights.
Each lead actor gets a chance to shine with at least one solo performance. A couple of stand out performances for me were Lucy Clifton (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) as Cindy Gibson and Kira Leiva (Annie, Hairspray) as Kim Easton. These two young women are little vocal powerhouses and their onstage presence was palpable. I can also see big things ahead for Josh Ridge, who was very charismatic, despite his character’s flaws.
Overall, I was extremely impressed with the calibre of this young cast. I look forward to seeing their names in many more programs to come.
The most wonderful thing about this that musicals like this is that they keep iconic music alive and introduces it to another generation. May the music of 80’s live forever. If you are looking for a fun family night out these school holidays, I can highly recommend Back to the 80’s. I know I’ll certainly be heading back for another transportation back to the era where big hair and big music ruled.