KPBS AIRDATE: JUNE 16, 1999
What IS it with the seventies? It was a ridiculous decade while it was going on: outlandish outfits, moronic music, stupid sitcoms. So why on earth should it be immortalized – not just in ONE mindless musical revue, but TWO – within the past eight months! First came “Polyester,” from the Green Room Theatre Company, a show as light, silly and synthetic as the fabric and the music it venerated. And now we have “Boogie Nights,” the latest endeavor of Obaloc Phillips and his Visions Theatre.
This show’s equally vapid, a lot less imaginative — but significantly more energetic. And a lot younger. One could quibble about the fact that none of the performers (but most of the audience members) were alive during the seventies. But this material requires the nerve, verve and vitality of youth. Visions has all of that – plus talent. All they need is a worthy vehicle. The problem with both these shows is that, for the most part, they take themselves – and the seventies – far too seriously. Let’s face it, folks, most of this stuff was pure, unadulterated schlock. It doesn’t deserve the reverence of opera. The pickings are so slim, in fact, that there’s a considerable amount of overlap in the two revues. Can you do that dastardly decade without “That’s the Way I Like It”, “We are Family,” “I Will Survive” or “Play That Funky Music”?
To the credit of Phillips and company, they did manage not to include anything by The Carpenters, The Village People or Barry Manilow (all of which appeared in “Polyester”), but neither show could avoid a series of sitcom themes, including “Laverne & Shirley” and all their primetime pals. But “Polyester” had the benefit of an enormously talented musical director, Scott Lacy, who provided outstanding arrangements and beautifully linked-and-synched medleys.
“Boogie Nights” could use a musical director. Truth be told, “Boogie Nights” could use a director. Obaloc Phillips is a very talented, vigorous and enterprising young man, but he can’t really do everything: conceive a show, and direct, choreograph and star in it. He needs an outside opinion, and some additional structure to rein in all that talent and keep it focused and used to best advantage.
Much to his credit, Phillips has assembled a hugely capable cast of five (in addition to himself). All are lively and agile, but the bulk of the singing falls to Chrissy Johnson, who is a knockout – adorable and charismatic, and definitely a face (and body!) to watch; and Kendra Kohrt, a tall, lissome winner as well (though why the attractive brunette had to sport a blonde wig through most of her numbers is anybody’s guess). The actual amount of singing skill is also anybody’s guess, too, since the music is so loud and the singers unmiked, that it’s virtually impossible to discern any of the insipid lyrics (if, by some chance, you didn’t already know them). On the plus side, you might consider this a good time to practice your lipreading skills. But if you like to take an active role in your theatergoing experiences, this is the show for you. Audience members get called up to dance, and called upon to sing, clap and answer a ‘’70s sitcom quiz’ (example: What was the first cartoon on primetime TV?)
Basically, this low-budget, low-tech show (which significantly overuses a strobe-effect placed way too far from the dancers) is like rehearsed karaoke. The costumes are apt but not overly wild or exaggerated, which would be easy and perhaps funnier. More humor would go a long way throughout. It’s a kick when the girls are on skates, moving all over the huge warehouse floor during “Car Wash.” Overall, the dance moves are good (heavy on the breast-indicating and butt-wagging) when they’re choreographed. The rest of the time, there’s a lot of posing, boogying or aimless strutting. That’s expected in a rock concert, but it doesn’t make for eye-popping theater.
The audience didn’t seem to mind any of this; from young kids to seniors, they appeared to be into it all, getting down and revisiting the past (or some retro-conception of it). That was admittedly a simpler, gentler, less cynical time. Now, for whatever it’s worth, the ‘70s are back, and not just at the Culy — on the big and small screen, and in clothing stores, where it’s obvious that the wildly colored, unbreathing, sweat-inducing fabric is, heaven help us, here to stay. What’s hardest to understand is, if it was such a witless decade, why would anyone ever want to relive it?
©1999 Patté Productions Inc.