More than five years after Lamb’s Players’ Mixtape ended its lengthy residency at the Horton Grand Theatre downtown, the ‘80s musical revue is back, this time at Lamb’s’ Coronado venue. For lovers of that era, this show is just like heaven, to borrow the title of a memorable song by The Cure that naturally is on Mixtape’s gargantuan playlist. The ‘80s was also a decade of excess, and Mixtape crams way, way too much into nearly two and a half hours of nostalgia, from remembering Pac Man and the Smurfs to acknowledging the Challenger space shuttle tragedy. That being said, it’s no mean feat to document musically an entire decade. But then Lamb’s has done it on other occasions, with its ‘60s-‘70s-inflected Boomers and the sweeping retrospective American Rhythm.
Created by Jon Lorenz and Colleen Kollar Smith and directed originally and now by Kerry Meads, Mixtape is a multi-genre retrospective. There are nods to the superstars of the time (Michael Jackson, Madonna) to ‘80s’ dance pop (Wang Chung, Wham!), to New Wave (Duran Duran, Oingo Boingo), to balladry (Lionel Richie), to R&B (the Pointer Sisters), to hair bands (Bon Jovi), to TV theme songs (“Cheers,” “Hill Street Blues,” et al). The tunes come speedily one after another, most of them performed only in part, but all are faithfully rendered by a stout-hearted live band (Leo Correia, Andy Ingersoll, Rik Ogden, Dave Rumley and Oliver Shirley).
Two of the ensemble performers, David S. Humphrey and Joy Yandell, are Mixtape veterans. They’re joined for this new iteration of the musical by Angela Chatelain Avila, Marqell Edward Clayton, Janaya Mahealani Jones, A.J. Mendoza and Shawn W. Smith. Their stamina and enthusiasm are impressive, as are the choreography by co-creator (Colleen Kollar) Smith and the slew of period costumes designed by Jemima Dutra. Colorful and commemorative projections designed by Michael McKeon enhance the trip back in time.
Mixtape resorts to a little piety and preachiness (cue U2) on its way to concluding, but the majority of the stage time is devoted to the MTV-driven visual flash and musical eclecticism that defined the 1980s. For Gen-Xers with long memories, that’s as good as it gets.
(Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 7/3/19.)
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat