A funny thing began to happen whenever Palace Theatre Artistic Director Carl Rajotte listened to 1980s pop music while preparing for his original June production, My Mixtape: Sounds of the 80’s.
Parents began to stop by his office. Sometimes they’d be singing along to the music that played, but most of the time, they’d cut in to tell him about how that song reminded them of growing up in that era, how it triggered memories of high school, dances or, in one case, a date at a roller rink.
“I think it’s really interesting and really motivating that a lot of these ’80s songs can really touch upon a memory,” Rajotte said in a phone interview, a week before the show’s premiere in Manchester.
My Mixtape is a compilation of songs of the 1980s, some of which came straight from Rajotte’s own road trip playlists. He remembers spending hours waiting by the radio for that final song to complete his perfect mix. The Palace hasn’t seen an ’80s-themed show since 2008’s The Wedding Singer, and he figured it was about time.
“Because I grew up in the ’80s, I was very inspired by the pop culture of that time,” Rajotte said.
But that culture isn’t all gone — he sees ’80s revitalization every day, in current pop idols and fashion, in everything from Lady Gaga to loud-printed leggings.
“I think we’re reliving a bit of an ’80s surge with the youth, with both the style and the music,” Rajotte said. “I think Gaga is bringing back a lot of the ’80s feel. She’s heavy on electric synthesizing that ’80s music is so known for. I teach a lot of teens here a the Palace, too, and I find it so fun hearing them talk about music today being futuristic-sounding, when really, it’s from the past.”
The show will be like a live, ongoing music video, with lots of singing and dancing. There are Michael Jackson mixes and Madonna melodies (which also, in Rajotte’s opinion, have inspired today’s pop idols).
“There are almost 100 songs in this show, but they’re all snippets to keep up with the very fast pace,” said Dominique Scott, a My Mixtape performer originally from Miami, Fla. If all goes as planned, Rajotte expects the performers to be exhausted by the show’s end.
Between numbers (which, according to rumors, will also include songs like “Funky Town,” “Wild Wild West,” “Whip It,” “Jesse’s Girl,” “Come On Eileen” and “Down Under”), Rajotte has planned pop throwbacks, with ’80s product commercials, news clips and sitcom theme songs. The second act will contain more ’80s rock, with tributes to Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Pat Benatar, Journey and others.
“It’s funny — all my teens love Journey, but they know the songs through Glee. I thought it would be their parents, but the kids are also super excited about the show. … I create a source CD for each act, and when I played it for them, they knew probably 90 percent,” Rajotte said.
Most of the show’s cast members were born in or just kids during the 1980s, but there’s nostalgia for them too. Scott took a break from his Rock of Ages tour to perform with the Palace. His last time on the Manchester stage was when he performed in Four Piano Men. He’s 26, having been born at the tail end of the ’80s, but he remembers the music well; his dad was the lead guitarist of a rock band and toured during that period. It’s what they listened to while driving to school.
“The ’80s was a really fun time for a lot of people,” Scott said. “I think there’s a raw energy about that decade that’s represented really well.”
There’s a bit of humor in the show too.
“It pokes fun at the period as well,” said Melanie Gaskins, who sings and dances in the show. She’ll be performing songs by Janet Jackson, Pat Benatar and others. At the time of the call, she’d just had a costume fitting.
“I’m wearing very light colors with lots of shoulder pads, in addition to off-the-shoulder stuff like from Flashdance. I have an ’80s prom dress with a big purple flower and tiered ruffles at the bottom, which is ridiculous but awesome,” Gaskins said. “It’s the feel-good music you belted out with your hairbrush.”
As seen in the June 5, 2014 issue of the Hippo.