Hits of 83
05/11/2011 - 17/12/2011
The year is 1983, the place is Palmy Skateworld and the music is legendary. Best friends Raylene, Vicki, Michelle and Lisa are all reunited for Gristle Wilson High School’s 50th Jubilee where they discover who is successful, married, gay or divorced.
Set in the present day, the actors play a multitude of characters between them, including their younger selves. As the events of the night unfold, we are transported back to 1983 to reminisce on their big hair, big attitudes and rollerskating adventures at Skateworld.
Hits of 83 is a recipe for fun, with fast costume changes, big laughs and roller-skating – all the right ingredients for a great night out! 1983 was a year of classic hit anthems and audiences will get to experience some of these first-hand including: ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’, ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’, ‘Hold Me Now’ and ‘Love is a Battlefield’.
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Laura Hill – Raylene
Rachel Henry – Michelle
Stayci Taylor – Vicki
Andrew Laing – Wayne
Kate Louise Elliott – Lisa
Jon Pheloung – Shane
Sara Taylor - Costume Designer
John Hodgkins - Set designer
Nathan McKendry – Lighting Design
Principal Co-sponsors: Property Brokers & Fitzherbert Rowe Lawyers
Clever concept needs more work
Review by Richard Mays 06th Nov 2011
Attending a high school reunion is one of those essential Kiwi rites of passage – even if you only do it once. And once is usually quite enough. Palmerston North’s Gristle Wilson (Gristle?) High School founded in 1961 is celebrating its 50th Jubilee. 28 years after flying the school coop, the class of ’83 return to a drably decorated, but carefully recreated – even down to the parquet flooring – school hall to find out “who’s fat, dead or gay”.
Six actors play the core characters in this light romantic music-based entertainment by Lucy Schmidt and Stayci Taylor. It follows the Hits of ’74 platform the pair devised in 2009 to celebrate Centrepoint’s 35th anniversary. Radio hits from the era, often reinterpreted, sometimes slightly spoofed, are used to accentuate the reminiscences and moods of the characters.
And so, Hits of ‘83 resounds to the sounds of the Thompson Twins’ Hold Me Now; Pat Benatar’s Love is a Battlefield, Duran Duran’s Hungry Like the Wolf, Irene Cara’s What A Feeling; Do You Really Want To Hurt Me by Culture Club, I’ll Be Watching You from Police, and Should I Stay Or Should I Go by The Clash.
Then there are all the period popular culture icons: Beta video recorders, banana-flavoured Zap, Nomads, George Michael, Return of the Jedi, Manawatu’s new private AM radio station 2XS, break-dancing, and of course the big one – the royal visit of Charles and Di to neighbouring and aitchless Whanganui.
With quick-fire costume changes, the actors also get to play their characters’ younger selves, as well as populate the reunion with cameos and caricatures. For instance, there’s Lofty, a boof-head former rugby player who is portrayed to comic effect by several of the performers, while actor Jon Pheloung gets to be three different versions of teacher, Mr Spencer – resplendent in walk-shorts socks and sandals – depending on which character is recounting the incident in question.
A feature of ’80s Palmy teenage social life was Skateworld, a central city rink where rich girl Michelle, gauche buck-toothed Raylene, shoplifting Vicki and her slightly dweebish twin brother Wayne, Lisa and her rugby-head boyfriend Shane, all hung out together on wheels. No, this is not turning into Starlight Express, but the swing-doored reunion hall does double as a skating rink.
Returning to 2011, a married Lisa (Kate Louise Elliott) and Shane (Pheloung) have a successful ‘spouses selling houses’ real estate company; unwed Wayne (Andrew Liang) is a science teacher at his old school; sister Vicki (Taylor) is married with two boys – George and Michael; Michelle (Rachel Henry) flies in from UK where she’s a high profile journalist, and Raylene (Laura Hill) is a TV star, playing nurse Janine in a popular soap – a nod to the actor’s former role on Shortland Street.
It’s a more than capable company working with a clever concept that allows for plot, anecdotes and chirpy encounters to be threaded around the songs – and for the inclusion of hindsight irony, some drama, a little pathos and the inevitable warm-fuzzies sing-along finale. First half though, the production skated somewhat tentatively about on a pitted rink, lacking in precision and timing as the performers continually flicked from present to past and back.
Allowing that these are actors rather than singers (though Elliott and Henry can really present a song), it’s the storytelling slickness and presentation that ought to make up for any live vocal deficiencies, as well as avert any confusion about what time period the action is set – not always the case on opening night.
With the conventions sorted, the shorter second half worked better, but the first half in particular needs more cohesion if it’s to match the performance standards set by previous Centrepoint productions.
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Ingenious production of thin plotlines
Review by John C Ross 06th Nov 2011
If you just love song-and-dance shows, you’ll love this one. So long as the songs, the singing and the routines are good enough, it’ll be a box of fluffies.
You’ll love it all the more if you are in the right age bracket and keenly interested in the pop scene in the early 1980s, so that recognizing and re-experiencing it brings you added pleasure. For the likes of old fogies like myself, not qualifying re either criterion, this element is a bit ho-hum. I recognize just one song: Cindy Lauper’s ‘Girls just wanna have fun’. Oh well.
The formula, previously employed in Centrepoint’s 2009 show Hits of ’73, requires a bit of a plot-line, or three, to hold the show together and provide scope for character-interest and dramatic movement. In this case, the scenario entails a Palmy co-ed secondary school Jubilee (in 2001 or 2011?) that brings together a bunch of characters who had been in the same senior-level class back in 1983.
So, they are alternating between their own younger and older selves, together with their back-then and later relationships and preoccupations. It’s a clever idea, yet the production still needs to settle in, and maybe needs a little tweaking to make these switchings sufficiently sharp and clearly signalled enough.
Moreover, most of the six cast members (four female, two male) are also playing more than one character, requiring even greater ingenuity in rapid offstage costume and wig changes, and vocal, body-language, and sometimes gender changes. It’s a big ask, and it even becomes part of the entertainment, when we are implicitly invited to pretend not to notice, late-on, that a hefty he-man type is wearing a short black skirt below ‘his’ rugby jersey. Late-on, too, Jon Pheloung brilliantly switches on-stage between his two characters, Shane, a nerdy student who has since become a diffident science teacher at the school, and the arrogant French husband of Raylene (same costume but utterly different body-language, and so forth).
Amidst all this ingenuity, the plot-lines are fairly thin, and not much happens in the first half. The second half hangs together much better. There are some good lines of dialogue, which come across well, yet others don’t (yet?) come across clearly enough.
One ingenious twist is that quite a few sequences happen in the school skating rink, with the characters as students buzzing around on roller-skates.
The singing is always adequate, sometimes better than that (‘Girls just wanna have fun’, for example, was particularly well-done, in a well-choreographed number).
Within the ensemble, Laura Hill stands out as the celebrity-singer Raylene, but the others, Kate Louise Elliott (Lisa +), Rachel Henry (Michelle +), Andrew Laing (Wayne +), Jon Pheloung (Shane +) and Stayci Taylor (Vicki +), all do well, with Elliott and Laing especially strong.
Lucy Schmidt’s directing, coping with the obvious complexities involved, has got the show on the road, though the rhythms, in the first half especially, sometimes need tightening up. John Hodgkins’ set works well enough, unfussy and adaptable. Dean McKerras’s choreography likewise works well, with plenty of variety. Sara Taylor’s costume designing is quite significant and effective. Nathan McKendry’s lighting is unobtrusively effective.
While this show in its nature has perhaps scope for further development, and is, after all, not quite my kind of show, it will certainly please many, as a lead-up-to-Christmas entertainment, and one wishes it well. _______________________________
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