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“Back to the ’80s” at Central Cabarrus

blumey student critics
T. Ortega Gaines - ogaines@charlotteobserver.com
Shannon Sullivan

What would happen if John Hughes and “Grease” had a love child in the form of a musical? The answer: “Back to the ’80s.” And yes, it is just as awesome as you think.

The show begins with Corey Palmer taking the audience back in time to his senior year at William Ocean High School. We’re introduced to the girl next door (literally) in Tiffany, for whom Corey harbors secret affection. Corey has decided to run for senior class president against the captain of the football team and Tiffany’s crush, Michael Feldman, and Feargal McFerrin III, who’s as geeky as his name suggests. The plot follows an election scandal and important events occurring during senior year.

A prom proposal set to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” is a perfect example of the charm and humor exhibited by the show. “Back to the ’80s” is filled with relationship drama and the realities of high school, along with songs by Wham!, Madonna and Bon Jovi. So it’s not just a blast from the past but a regular blast, as well.

Senior Joshua Eli White carried the show with his charismatic Corey Palmer, who was charmingly awkward as he tried to survive the end of high school and capture Tiffany’s heart. Gary Raymond caught the essential cocky jock as the football captain, and Davis Williams’ Feargal was a hysterically stereotypical geek, resplendent in his suspendered glory.

Delenn Rumbolo brought authority and sass to teacher Sheena Brannigan and won the crowd with her and White’s duet on “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Bekah O’Reilly’s Eileen was adorable in her naïveté and brought great energy to the stage. Group numbers were impressive in their cohesion, and most of them included audience participation in one way or another.

The minimal but complex set included a gigantic Rubik’s cube platform; at one point, an actual car came onstage. Costumes and designs couldn’t help but remind the audience of the time period, with plenty of leg warmers, acid-washed jeans and an abundance of neon.

Increased vocal projection would not have gone amiss, and soloists occasionally got ahead of their accompaniment, but any flaws were more than made up for by the actors’ charisma and talent. Director Shellie Kingaby chose a winner for both her talent pool and entertainment value.

What other show includes a battle-duet of “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” and a mash-up of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and “Come on Eileen”? Filled with “gnarly” 80s references, including a replica of Lloyd Dobler’s trench coat from “Say Anything” and plenty of “radical” phrases, this was the perfect nostalgic glance at one of America’s finest decades.

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