Mixtape: Rewind to the 80s (Outside The Jukebox)
Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre
March 9 – 11
A mixtape is a homemade compilation of music, typically from multiple sources, traditionally recorded onto a cassette tape. The songs are either ordered or grouped with a deliberateness in contribution to an overall messaging, usually of love. This is the idea appropriately at the centre of Outside The Jukebox’s “Mixtape: Rewind to the 80s”, which is conceptualised around the idea of its performers finding a box containing clothes from the 1980s and a series of said tapes. By listening to the tapes’ mixes of music, they set about contemplating who might have put them together. Was it chronicle of love blossoming, lost or platonically shared? With each person hearing the songs differently in terms of take-away meanings, there is a lot of room for speculation.
The world-class vocalists of Outside The Jukebox are not only highly-skilled but incredibly versatile as they harmonise in fast-forward suite snippets of songs and present full numbers as part of their determination to convince others as to their imagined backstory behind the mix-tapes’ creation. Each song is a surprise as they restyle, rework, reinterpret and mashup favourite numbers, from Whitney to Wham, sometimes in the most unexpected of ways (an almost-operatic ‘Back in Black’ certainly fits this brief, even though its styling seems somewhat jarring with the sensibility of the rest of the show’s program).
With original arrangements for the production conceived by the group themselves, led by musical director Marcia Penman, and with additional arrangements and tracks created in collaboration with local musicians Tom Collins and Alex Van den Broek, there is much depth to the different musical approaches on offer. The result is something quite special as the group restyles songs to give us a jazzily-provocative version of Olivia Newton John’s Physical, a mournful ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’, which allow the audience to consider lyrics anew. While some, like Toto’s ‘Africa’, led by associate producer, creator and performer Oliver Samson, remain quite true to their original layered and anthemic sounds (down even to a
synth whistle accent), others represent more substantial departures from their source material, for example, when Penman gives us a whimsical re-take on Prince’s “Kiss” complete with a dainty “I think we better dance now”.
There are also some robust medleys, including of Michael Jackson hits from producer, creator and performer Hayden Rodgers and an ensemble ABBA encore, and surprising mashups, such as of Fleetwood Mac and Survivor. ‘Material Girl’ and ‘Uptown Girl’ seem like an organic fit, while ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ and ‘Don’t You Want Me’ capture the spirit at the heart of the era whose soul was firmly set in its Brat Pack movies. And, the inventive ‘Push It’ merge in and out of ‘Love Shack’ is a genius combination that both showcases the creative, original arrangements that represent the core of the show’s appeal, but also capture its essentially playful spirit.
Numbers showcase a range of rich vocal experience and include opportunities for harmonious unite in ensemble numbers like an early, boppy ‘Take On Me’ retake, and the vocal stylings of each performer are effectively utilised to suit each song’s essential re-imagined messaging. From within a program that features a lot of Madonna and Prince, creator and performer Hannah Grondin gives us a goosebumpy belt of ‘Purple Rain’, full of fierce emotion as much as undeniably skilful vocals, to represent a late show highlight.
“Mixtape: Rewind to the 80s” is a one-of-a-kind concert that is both a unique experience and all sorts of infectious fun. The show’s 80(ish) minutes of high-energy performances, thrilling vocals, and tongue-in-cheek comedy are jam packed with highlights both in musical memory and re-imagination, as Outside The Jukebox finds new ways to interpret things. For those who experienced the ‘80s IRL, it represents opportunity to experience favourite iconic tunes of the era as never heard before. And, as “Stranger Things” has shown, there is always a new generation ready to come Running up that Hill to discover songs anew too.
Photos c/o – Kyle Head Photography