The '80s were a time of big hair, catchy music and too many legwarmers, and "Back to the '80s" at Brashear High School managed to capture that 1980s essence while incorporating impressive choreography and incredible enthusiasm.
The energy filling the theater was immediately overwhelming from the second I set foot in the lobby -- in fact, I could hear it from outside the building. Before the show began, a DJ stood next to the stage blasting '80s tunes, while the incredibly enthusiastic (and loud!) audience eagerly sang along. Some members of the audience were even dressed in '80s outfits, dancing in the aisles.
"Back to the '80s" is the quintessential high school musical: there's the nerdy-but-loveable underdog, the oblivious popular girl he's in love with, the mean-spirited popular football player, and a budding relationship between two teachers. Throw in prom and an election for class president, and you have the most predictable high school plotline in existence. However, "Back to the 80s" manages to create a riveting performance because of the era -- the 80s, with its catchy songs. The musical consists of a weak plotline held together by numerous powerful musical numbers, which turn a flimsy musical into an entertaining performance.
One highlight of the show was the many lead roles, giving plenty of students the opportunity to shine. Although the leads were effective, it was the supporting characters that really stood out, most obviously Darian Link, playing new girl Eileen. Expressing extraordinary enthusiasm and remarkable vocal chops, Link simply stole the stage in every scene she was present. "Walking on Sunshine" was undoubtedly the most passionate, energy-filled number of the night, with vocal powerhouse Eileen center stage.
Another performer who stood out was Gerald Dampil, playing the extremely nerdy Feargal, which provided an unexpected comedic touch, with lines such as, "Everyone thinks I'm nuts, but I know that one day CDs will replace cassette tapes." Kizzie Berry, playing the popular football player Michael Feldman, possessed an outstanding amount of charisma that automatically drew your eyes to him onstage, which was essential with such a large cast.
Although several spectacular performers and musical numbers made up for the lackluster plot, there were often times where the audience was left confused. Unfortunately, some of these perplexities were caused by the distracting technical difficulties, but others were caused by lead characters simply not speaking loudly or articulating enough for the audience to understand what they were saying. In addition, in some numbers the lead characters proved their vocal ability, but in others, such as "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)", the leads were not up to the standards they had previously set, or worse, very off-key.
In the end, what saved "Back to the '80s" from becoming a forgettable series of musical numbers was the obvious passion displayed not only by the cast, but the entire school. The show was enormously an all-school project, with a large orchestra and stage crew, and, commendably, a student with disabilities was given a small speaking role.
While the performance itself was entertaining and memorable, you could truly see the cast's passion and love for the show through their proud smiles during the bows. "Back to the '80s" suffered its setbacks, but it also showcased some very talented performers and ended up as a satisfying, feel-good musical.
The Kelly Critics is a joint program of the Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh CLO's Gene Kelly Awards for Excellence in High School Musicals, in which students at Kelly schools review musicals at other Kelly schools. Reviews are edited by senior theater critic Christopher Rawson (firstname.lastname@example.org), a long-time Kelly Awards judge.
First Published May 9, 2012 12:00 AM