‘8-Track’ is a Hi-Energy, Crowd Pleasing Revue

By Geary Danihy

Bridgeport’s Downtown Cabaret follows up She Loves You!, its highly successful salute to the Beatles, with 8-Track: The Sound of the 70’s, another musical revue that is, by all standards, superior to the Fab Four production. In fact, it’s just about the best musical revue I’ve seen in several years.

On tour since 2001, 8-Track features four superb singer/dancers who ably capture the sounds and style of the disco decade in a two-hour show that seems to rush by in a half-hour. The four, Teddey Brown, Denise Estrada, Nik Rocklin and Liana Young, start fast and hot and simply do not let up for the entire evening. As an ensemble, their voices blend pleasantly and seamlessly; in solos, each shows that he or she can belt out one of the decade’s anthems as well as deliver a ballad with both heart and style.

An Infinite Ache
The cast of 8-Track, The Sounds of the 70's ‘Who loves ya' baby?' at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre
(Left to right: Nik Rocklin, Liana Young, Tonya Phillips, Teddey Brown)

The choreography by Tonya Phillips Staples is both era-appropriate and witty, and Rick Seeber’s direction allows the cast to “play” a bit with body language and stage business, giving the production a certain tongue-in-cheek feel without condescending to the music or the artists who originally created it.

If there is a quibble, it would be with the lighting early on – several of the cast members are mostly in deep shadow during the opening ensemble number, and this, as far as I could see, was not because they weren’t hitting their marks. However, the problem doesn’t persist, and for the balance of the show Hugh Hallinan’s lighting scheme captures the mood and style of the era. About the only thing missing is a disco ball for the show’s finale.

8-Track is nominally broken up into eight “tracks”: from “Not Sold in Stores,” (with a humorous take on the K-Tel TV commercials) through the tail-end of the Viet Nam era (“War and Peace”) and into “The Party” era and the confusion engendered by the Sexual Revolution (“The One-Day Stand”) and, finally, the hedonistic, Studio-54 “Disco” delirium, which ends the show,

In the process, memories are stirred and revivified as the four performers sing songs made famous by, among others, The Carpenters, Cat Stevens, Dawn and Elton John, Marvin Gaye, Three Dog Night, Bread, Barry White (yes, there are handkerchiefs), Melissa Manchester, Barry Manilow, Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin, Billy Joel and Helen Reddy (“…hear me roar!”)…and they do it all with style, verve and, quite often, an amazing verisimilitude.

To pull off a revue like this, there has to be a commitment on the actors’ part to believe (or at least maintain the façade of belief) that what they are presenting is exciting. Each song has to seem newly minted, even as it evokes smoky (perhaps chemical) memories in those in attendance. Often, revues such as 8-Track leave an “ashes-in-the-mouth” taste because the performers rely too heavily on nostalgia to sell the songs and skimp on enthusiasm. Such is not the case here. The cast bubbles, preens, stomps, struts, cavorts and, in sum, delivers on every level. Lord knows what these young people actually think about the music they are performing and the era that they are evoking, but judged by their high-energy, sometimes even gleeful performances, one might think that they all truly believe that the 70s was the be-all-end-all decade. It, of course, was not, but for those of us who lived through it, there were moments when, clad in polyester and cavorting and gesticulating as if we were all John Travoltas, it was one hell of a lot of fun, and that fun is amply conveyed in 8-Track.

So, if in the 70s you were boogying at your local disco or aping The Village People in the bathroom mirror with a hairbrush-microphone in your hand, or were in third grade and totally clueless, gather your family, friends, neighbors and anyone you can find on the street who appears to be in need of a good time, pack some goodies (pizza, wraps or a six-foot hero) and hustle on down to the Downtown Cabaret Theater in Bridgeport for two hours of pulsating pleasure. Dancing in the aisles is permitted.

8-Track runs through Sunday, May 25. For tickets or more information, call 576-1636 or go to www.DTCab.com. To see what other critics think about the show or to learn what’s playing at theaters around Connecticut, go to www.ctcritics.org.

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