Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On
By Garrett Stack
Music lovers, here’s a tip for you: 8-Track The Sounds of the 70’s is now shakin’ the booty of The Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport. And I mean shakin’. Four singers bedecked in bell-bottoms, polyester and platforms have landed on the Cabaret stage to help you recall the popular music heard all over the AM radios during the have a nice day decade.
This musical revue is non-stop entertainment and non-stop music. The loosely woven story about the lover, the nerd, the power woman and the Earth Mother is told entirely in song. The songs come from their characters and are strung together in a way so that one song makes logical sense as it leads to the next. The four singers, two men and two women, present about 50 songs in tight harmony, sometimes solo and sometimes duet, but always authentic.
Rick Seeber, conceiver and director of 8-Track, calls the show “his 70’s” and purposely left out music he didn’t like, like hard acid/metal rock, in favor of the melodic, the mellow, rhythm and blues, disco and soul sounds of the 70’s. Teddy Brown, Denise Estrada, Nik Rocklin and Liana Young, three of whom have been with 8-Track since its inception in 2001, give performances from the heart and with voices from the soul.
Surprise after surprise makes this show unique. What 8-Track is not is a traditional book musical with moving sets and dialogue. What it is, is a rollercoaster ride through the 70’s as told through music, choreography, lighting and costumes.
Songs chosen around themes such as war and peace, the party, the one-day stand and disco unfold and take the audience to places we forgot we ever knew. The audience is part of the fun. Baby boomers and those in age groups before and after, sing, participate, and obviously love being in the 70’s again. Musical highlights are countless, but bringing back memories are songs like Get Ready, Everything Is Beautiful, Afternoon Delight, War, Peace Train, Tie A Yellow Ribbon, What’s Going On, Mama Told me Not Come, I Am Woman, Shake Your Booty, and YMCA with spontaneous audience staging. And that’s just for starters.
The ensemble works as a unit yet each has his or her own distinct personality. Teddy Brown, the nerd, is a young man in search of his place in the world and is sometimes shocked at the world he discovers. On the other hand, Nik Rocklin, the lover, portrays the hot and sexy guy who all the girls seem to want. The Earth Mother, Denise Estrada, with a huge vocal range, is all-knowing and the one you would defer to for important decisions. Power woman Aliana Young, is a strong alto who captures the decade perfectly in look, attitude, and voice. Her reading of I Am Woman had particular emotion, even 30 years after the song’s debut.
I have one criticism of 8-Track. While the voices are live and beautiful, the musical accompaniment, superb in its authentic arrangements, is pre-recorded. At first I was annoyed by it, but as the evening went on I realized that part of what makes 8-Track so much fun is the dead-on familiar arrangements that lead us into the songs. Some unmistakable hooks make you smile and become giddy even before the singing starts. While we would all love to see a huge orchestra, and rock musicians in the pit, it would cost a fortune to do it right. In the end, the pre-recorded accompaniment works, and works well.
There’s only one reason to go to see 8-Track: The Sounds of the 70’s, and that’s the music, pop music of the 70’s performed by a talented cast of pros. A feel-good night in Cabaret style, with safe parking across the street, 8-Track is waiting for you. So boogie on down to Bridgeport, but do it by May 25 or it will be another one of those, “Wish I went” moments that happen so easily to all of us.
On the Theatre Circuit for WMNR, I’m Garrett Stack.
(Reviewed 5/2/08 performance. First aired on WMNR 5/10/08)