On the same day that the results for the annual Students’ Union elections were being revealed on campus, an election campaign of a different type was being held over in the Studio@ venue of the Bradford Playhouse, where the Bradford University Society of Operettas and Musicals was putting on the second of three nights of the jukebox musical Back To The 80s, which sees a group of high-school students standing for their very own elected place.
Back To The 80s is packed with pop classics from that decade including You Give Love A Bad Name, Total Eclipse Of The Heart and Footloose, set against the story of groups of American students – some cool, some geeky, some out of sorts – who are each tackling their own issues as they work their way through student elections and towards the highlight of the school social calendar – the prom.
The musical is told through the eyes of Corey Palmer Jr, played by Jo Nic, whilst Corey Palmer as an older man, played by Azmine Murshed, narrates the story. Though it would be difficult to really say that the two actors looked like each other – especially as they are different sexes, an issue with a mostly female cast necessitating almost pantomime-levels of gender fluidity – both worked well. Murshed’s narrator was the glue of the piece and outside of a few wobbly lines held it together, but it was the tomboyish, enthusiastic Nic who lit up the stage as she bounced around between social groups, dragged around a contemporary scooter and attempted to get the girl.
Claire Wilde played girl-next-door Tiffany Houston, revelling in the cheerleaderesque stereotype complete with ginger wig, with a great, sweet singing voice and memorable stage presence. Fighting for her attention was Denzel Gordon as Michael Feldman, your typical high school jock. New to the cast, Gordon was great, playing the larger-than-life character with gusto and throwing all his energy into fighting, rapping and strong public speaking. His solo number Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car wasn’t the strongest of the show but his stage presence was second to none.
Elsewhere in the cast we had Joe Burke and Veronica Mantziou as teachers Stevie Cocker and Sheena Brannigan, their more adult love story a neat subplot. Burke lived the role as teacher, commanding the cast, whilst Mantziou’s sultry and caring character gave the romance believability, her gentle singing style captivating.
Musically Back To The 80s throws in plenty of memorable songs in. Opening with a spirited version of Kids In America, the first act rattled through many great numbers with Naomi Fowler leading a very good version of Buggles’ Video Killed The Radio Star complete with dance moves, and Joe Burke powering through Man In The Mirror. Act two saw a full-cast version of We Are The World, a beautiful version of Total Eclipse Of The Heart and a bouncy Centrefold, but outside of Material Girl it was Dancing On The Ceiling that won me over in the second half.
Back To The 80s was certainly an enjoyable evening, the mixture of great songs and solid performances making this one of the best BUSOM shows I’ve seen – it certainly felt the slickest. The musical does suffer from the usual shoehorning of songs into the plot that you get from jukebox musicals – as soon as a character called Eileen is introduced, you know what to expect; when a character is discovered to have posed for an adult magazine, the song Centrefold is never far behind – but it was a delight to watch, the heady mix of tongue-in-cheek wink-wink nods to the future from an 80s perspective and great songs was a wonder. Over the two-and-a-half hours the cast took part in singing, dancing, maths lessons, rapping, cheerleading acrobatics, fighting, light-sabre duelling in a fantasy dream sequence with Darth Vader and guitar battles, whilst decked out in tie-dyed shirts, leg-warmers and shades, in a visually exciting, fast-moving, well-produced piece that included the most Yorkshire-sounding martial arts instructor you’ve ever heard.
I thoroughly enjoyed BUSOM’s take on Back To The 80s, the cast tighter and more prepared than I’d ever seen them, with very few points to pull them up on. They looked like they were having a ball on stage and this transferred to the audience, often in laughter at the dialogue and delivery. There were plenty of little touches to the production in the background work from character acting to maths formulas being written up that fleshed out the illusion of locations, and nice inclusions of nods to other University areas in the piece. Jo Nic, Denzel Gordon and Claire Wilde in particular were great on the night, with Jenkins, Fowler, Mant-Ziou and Ojulari the best of what was a very good secondary cast of actors and singers, alongside some great lighting work from the crew.
I may have been only alive for 40% of the 1980s but it was great to be sent back to that decade for one evening thanks to a funny and well performed musical from.