By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III
Regular customers of The Music Box Theatre (and there are plenty of them filling the house at each performance), are very familiar with the way each month-long production has a creative new theme. The current offering, BACK TO THE 80’S, may sound familiar to those who attended their similar production titled, The 80’s Mix Tape Diaries just two years ago. At that time the plot thread was built around a fictional tale of characters involved in the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. This time around we have a unique approach as a fictional parody of the famed TV soap opera, Dallas, unfolds to loosely (at times very loosely) link together assorted songs of the period.
We meet the dull-witted fading champion wrestler, Johnny Texas ‘T’ Riggs, (played by Luke Wrobel, and humorously known as “J.R.”), and also J.R.’s not-so-devoted wife, Eileen (Rebecca Dahl), who loves his sprawling Texas ranch, but loves their handsome pool boy, Marco Pollo, even more (Brad Scarborough). Johnny Texas ‘T’ is murdered early on, and the resulting who-done-it raises suspicions of Johnny’s gambling floozy daughter, Geraldine (Cay Taylor), and his seductive German psychoanalyst, Sybil (Kristina Sullivan.) That is probably enough to say about the sometimes tedious and sophomoric plot that was aptly described from the stage as both “historical fiction like cable news,” and “complex and spider web-like.” It can be alternately amusing and exhausting, but as usually happens at this fun-filled venue, the music saves the day under the watchful eye of music director, Glenn Sharp, with his fine G-Sharp Band.
Right out of the gate the cast proves the music rules with a lively performance of the Queen/David Bowie hit, “Under Pressure.” The rhythmic, pulsing and calypso-flavored number was full of kooky fun that was highlighted by the playful mischief and frenzied falsetto high notes from Mr. Scarborough. The second selection paired the Queen/INXS numbers, “Another One Bites the Dust,” (featuring lashing percussion from drummer, James Metcalfe, and another fine vocal from Brad), followed by Miss Dahl joining in with a sexy counterpoint for the fiery rhythms of, “Need You Tonight.” Wrobel and Taylor duet for a romantic rendition of the Kenny Rogers/Kim Carnes number, “Don’t Fall in Love with a Dreamer.” Sullivan continues the dream theme with the Crowded House tune, “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” Wrobel brings plenty of intensity to Gregory Abbott’s, “Shake You Down,” while the quartet offers gentle backup while bouncing around behind the onstage bar. The five join together for the Roxette song, ‘It Must have Been Love,” and then Dahl shows the acting skills she honed during years with the Masquerade Theatre, as she delivers a fierce performance of Cindy Lauper’s hit, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” There was more falsetto magic when Brad launched into the A-Ha hit, “Take On Me.” (I overheard one woman near me saying, “That song was my favorite music video ever!”) Miss Dahl led the ladies into vocal outer space as the guys joined in for band Journey’s 1980’s hit, “Don’t Stop Believing.” It was just the end of Act One of this jam-packed show, but it was more than enough to convince fans to keep believing in the musical magic at THE MUSIC BOX. Stop by soon while Act Two is included at no extra charge, and visit the wine & cheese bar where tasty Mimosas are also available. The cast proudly promises, “We are better when you’re drinking!”
BACK TO THE 80’s continues through December 1st at the Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt, Houston, Texas, with 7:30 p.m. performances on Fridays & Saturdays. There will be a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, November 25th. Reserved seating for all shows is $39 + tax, and General Admission is $29 + tax. For tickets and information call 713-522-7722 or visit the website at www.themusicboxtheater.com, where you can also find information about the upcoming show, A Beatles Holiday Cabaret, playing December 7th-29th.
A member of The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the columns of David Dow Bentley III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com