In latest production at Lamb’s Players Theatre, ‘miXtape’ still has the right stuff
As long as there’s yet another “Transformers” movie to look forward to — and by the way, who’s actually watching these things? Anyone? Bueller? — the 1980s will never die.
But just in case, there’s “miXtape,” the ‘80s-saturated Lamb’s Players Theatre show that asks the musical question: Do people really still remember the words to the theme song for TV’s “Diff’rent Strokes”?
The answer: Oh, yes. Yes, they do. At least judging by the audience sing-along at an opening-weekend performance of the newly revived revue.
Just to catch you up: “miXtape” is a kind of live-theater rewind within a rewind. (Kids, ask your parents what that word means.) It’s a breezy, crowd-pleasing and cleverly conceived piece about the ‘80s, one that Lamb’s first produced in downtown San Diego nearly a decade ago.
The original production’s three-year stint at the Horton Grand set a record as the longest-running homegrown musical in local history, and Lamb’s brought the show back for an encore engagement in 2015. Now, the company has opened a spritzed-up staging with new cast members and sharper tech at its own home theater.
Could Lamb’s maintain the zip and wit of this show about a decade that’s receding into distant memory as quickly as the hairlines of some members of its target audience (or so we must assume)?
To find out, I went to the Danger Zone, as downtown Coronado has been described by no one ever.
What I discovered: “MiXtape,” created by music director-arranger Jon Lorenz and choreographer Colleen Kollar Smith, is still a good deal of back-to-the-future fun. The seven-member cast — which includes “miXtape” newcomers Angela Chatelain Avila, Marqell Edward Clayton, Janaya Mahealani Jones, A.J. Mendoza and Shawn W. Smith, plus returnees David S. Humphrey and Joy Yandell — is strong and versatile (and probably a little out of breath; this is a really fast-moving show).
The live band of Leo Correia, Andy Ingersoll, Rik Ogden, Dave Rumley and Oliver Shirley is likewise sharp; director Kerry Meads and stage manager Maria Mangiavellano continue to do an ace job of keeping the medleys and mashups turning on a dime (or at least on a circa-1980 Susan B. Anthony dollar); and Michael McKeon’s dynamic projections give the show a huge visual boost on Mike Buckley’s period-perfect catwalk set.
In spite of seeing “miXtape” four times now, I still can’t tell “Full House” from “Family Ties” (maybe not the show’s fault). And if I were picking, I might’ve salted in some material from the likes of Devo and the matchless L.A. band X. More punk, less “Punky Brewster.”
Also: The San Diego-connected “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and its patron saint, Jeff Spicoli, seem significant omissions.
But everybody’s nostalgia trip is different, and “miXtape” does an admirable job of packing in a dizzying litany of ‘80s touchstones: “Top Gun,” Wang Chung, “Love Shack,” Aussie Shampoo, “Pump Up the Jam,” “Dirty Dancing,” “Cheers,” the Challenger space shuttle.
The segment about the televised tragedy that befell the latter feels integrated more organically into this mostly upbeat piece than in past editions of “miXtape,” and Avila opens it with a pretty and wistful acoustic-guitar take on New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle.”
The cast’s male members reprise the show’s funny ode to “Danger Zone” from “Top Gun,” as choreographed for office chairs instead of fighter jets; and the women get some of Jemima Dutra’s splashiest, most “Solid Gold”-esque costumes for a satirical mashup of “Flashdance” and “Physical.”
Yandell once again brings powerful vocals and raw emotion to Suzanne Vega’s “Luka.” And while the second act can start to drag, it boasts the single best performance of the show: Clayton’s soaring, soulful and beautifully sung rendition of a reggae-inflected “In Your Eyes,” the Peter Gabriel gem.
His turn is one for my own all-time mixtape of the mind.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays; 7:30 p.m Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Through Sept. 1.
Where: Lamb’s Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Ave., Coronado
Phone: (619) 437-6000
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