On Centre Stage.
Reliving the Nostalgia Years
By Douglas Kennedy
Back to the 80’s by Neil Gooding. Gold Coast Little Theatre. Ensemble cast. Directed and choreographed by Andrew Ross-Graham. Runs until March 4. www.gclt.com.au
Neil Gooding’s Back to the 80’s – now playing the Gold Coast Little Theatre – is a neat celebration of our passion for nostalgia, which smoothly channels high school hit makers such as Grease.
This jukebox musical, penned by an Aussie writer and first produced in Sydney back in 2004, cleverly plugs into the US senior year scenario and comes complete with the soundtrack of ‘our’ lives lived through the class of ’89.
Not surprisingly Coast director and choreographer, Andrew Ross-Graham, stumbled on this story of the 1989 graduating class of the William Ocean High at high school.
It is a natural as a school production as it combines top ten pop hits, a cast almost as big as the production team likes, lashings of end of school nostalgia and familiar touching teen tales.
In this GCLT production which is bound to be a crowd pleaser – as long as the sound is okay and the young cast invests plenty of energy in their performances to make up for shortcomings in the experience department – the story lines run smoothly through the school year.
The show opens with an older Corey Palmer (Jay Ahrens), living in 2001, and being beamed into the theatre from ‘some other world’ via a TV screen, and reflecting on the pleasure and, sometimes, pain of being a young adult.
This older character sets the scene with Wham!’s Wake Me Up Before You Go Go before introducing the audience to the principal players in his ‘goodbye-to-children’ picture book narrative.
The types come in neat little bundles and include the sport heroes, the nerds, the cool boys, the hot girls and even the teachers (who have their own little story lines).
The principals include the boy most likely to Michael Feldman (Rory Schiele), the girl next door Tiffany Houston (Becky Morgan), the nerd Feargal McFerrin III (David Austin), the popular twins Mel and Kim (Stephanie Stephens and Mandy Vuglar) and the quirky guys including Huey Jackson (Darrian Douty), Billy Arnold (Michael Redfern) and Alf Bueller (Jackson Kook).
Then there’s the teachers including Ms Sheena Brannigan (Jo De Goldi), Mr. Steven Crocker (Reece Jones) and Mrs. Stephens (Laura Baker), whose roles are more than token.
There’s more than two dozen singers, dancers and characters on stage, but at the heart of the story is the young Corey Parker (Liam Chapman) who is our ‘everyman’ or at least our ‘every boy.’
He’s the one that the audience wants to barrack for as we follow him on his journey through the election for senior school president, falling in unrequited love with the girl next door, dealing with a school bully, helping the broken hearted newcomer and searching for that elusive happy ending.
Having Cory senior dip in and out of the story helps the audience get under the skins of these kids as we watch them stretching their young limbs and working toward that ultimate, almost frightening, freedom which comes with graduation.
With more than two dozen youngsters on stage – with various levels of experience and natural talent – there’s bound to be comparisons made, and favourites picked, but overall these shows depend on energy and these youngsters have it in spades.
Apart from the familiar story lines, Gooding has packed his show with references from the era from amusing little asides – ‘Buller’s not here sir, it’s his day off’ – to references to Star Wars, the Karate Kid and other late 80s icons.
And the songs – the glue between the patter – come thick and fast from Kids in America, Girls Just Want to Have Fun to Centrefold, Never Gonna Give You Up, Material Girl and the stirring anthem (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.
There’s 28 songs in total.
Back to the 80’s is a fun, bright and extremely breezy school show which boasts all sorts of records for popularity at home and even abroad.