The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Reliving (and Reviewing) the Prom

By Justin Sondak in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 15, 2005 5:00PM

fiveat80s.jpgInteractive shows are often like the political rallies of the theater world. The presentation is predictably high concept, improvisation is mostly warmed over talking points, and everyone’s expected to cheer on cue and leave feeling wonderful. Only later do you realize your candidate’s flawed, his policy papers need work, and there’s no way he’ll deliver on his promises.

It’s all too easy to dismiss The Awesome 80s Prom as some cheap attempt to capitalize on people’s childhood memories, to declare interactive theater isn’t “real theater” and that we’re all just too cool for this kind of nonsense. But that’s not entirely true. Prom certainly has its flaws, which we’ll cover in a moment, but for a bubble gum pop spectacle you could do worse than an evening at this Weed Street extravaganza. Credit Ken Davenport and Bortz Entertainment Group for drawing an enthusiastic audience eager to glorify or simply relive their high school days.

Awesome 80s Prom fans are, for the most part, not the typical Chicago theater audience. Seduced by the spectacle, much of the crowd had no trouble getting down to Cyndi Lauper and Bon Jovi. Those dudes sporting turned up collars and moussed hair were just as entertaining as the cast. Class of ‘89 “Princes and Princesses” and “Kings and Queens” (the deeper-pocketed guests) posed for professional portraits while a lucky few enjoyed attention from the high school football players and cheerleaders. Senior class melodrama permeated the club, some characters campaigned for audience votes, others bickered on the dance floor.

pop80sdance.jpgAnd when the streamers came down for the show’s finale, we’ll admit to feeling that momentary glow from a shallow but satisfying ending, like sugary Pop Rocks exploding in your mouth. We could even overlook a few implausibilities. Dedicating “Don’t Stop Believing” to the last-in-the-league ’89 White Sox sure was funny, but how would the DJ know in May or June that they’d finish with only 69 wins? So what if the burnouts we knew back in high school wouldn’t be caught dead at prom? So what if the music was stacked towards early 80s chart toppers instead of glam metal and Richard Marx? (Actually, we didn’t mind that so much.)

Sweep the confetti and balloons aside and the experience feels rather empty. The committee of performers and writers comprising the “Class of ‘89” should be grounded, forced to sit in their rooms listening to Milli Vanilli records all week for fathoming such a paper-thin, humorless script. Jocks who can’t spell? An utterly predictable cat fight? A stopped up toilet? Really? For better and worse, DJ Johnny Hughes (Chad Reinhart) embodies the pathetic, cheeseball guys hired to lead these parties. But the two exchange students (Michelle Muller as Inga, Dawen Wang as Feung) are flat stereotypes at best, offensive at worst. And while we’re on that subject—two exchange students but no African-Americans or Hispanics? Everyone seems to be fighting, then at the drop of a hat, outcasts and popular kids are dancing the finale together.

Worst of all, this show feeds a terrible notion that “The 80s” are a name brand, a convenient state of mind rather than 10 years that shaped the world and our lives. It says that we can lift bitchin’ lines from John Hughes movies while ignoring his fearless portrayal of the adolescent minefield, that serviceable pop standards outweigh New Wave and the birth of Hip Hop, that our formative years are merely a collection of movie references and personalities. Interactive theater certainly has a place in the age of fan fiction, interactive news, short attention spans and omnipresent electronic message boards. We’d prefer that its creators brought more wit and substance to their promising ideas.

The show’s press kit, delivered in a smart Trapper notebook, includes a “You Might Be a Child of the 80s If” quiz. In that spirit, we present:

You’ll Love ‘The Awesome 80s Prom’ If:

You’re a big fan of Tony and Tina’s Wedding and were born between 1965 and 1974.

You were first on line for the Duran Duran Reunion Tour.

You use ‘like totally,’ ‘gag me with a spoon’ and ‘grody’ with complete sincerity.

That fantasy where you make out with the Captain of the Football Team/Head Cheerleader is as vivid now as it was back in high school.

The name “Wannaget High” makes you snarf Capri Sun all over your keyboard.

You spend most of your weekend on Weed Street anyway.

The Awesome 80s Prom plays Thursday – Sunday nights, 8pm, at RadioStar, 901 W Weed St, Chicago. Pre-show festivities begin at 7:30. Tickets are $39-69. For more information, visit