Well, here we go again. “The 80s Show” is the second crack at an underdog musical you were wise to ignore when it was called “Legwarmers.” But like the nerd girl’s transformation at the prom, it has blossomed into something at least worth rooting for.
Las Vegas has never come up with a good way to develop original works. Cirque du Soleil opened “Michael Jackson One” this week and will happily sell you a ticket. But it won’t be eager for me, or any other critic, to see it before the “official” opening June 29.
Sirc Michaels’ modest jukebox musical is even more a publicly funded petri dish of an experiment.
If you like “The 80s Show” — and there is much to like — thank the less-fortunate who ponied up for “Legwarmers” and allowed the new version show to learn on its feet. The ethics of that can be debated, but Las Vegas has no “workshop” process and the progress here can’t be denied.
“The 80s Show” is still a no-budget, lightly scripted salute to the ’80s in general and John Hughes movies in particular. But Michaels rewrote his script and recruited a quintet of skilled players to perform it.
A rotating ensemble of young community players may give his companion show, “Evil Dead The Musical,” the happy feel of a high-school musical gone “Lord of the Flies.” But that didn’t work here. Michaels may have envisioned another talk-back drinking party, but he ended up with almost a “Smokey Joe’s Cafe”-style revue demanding legitimate showmanship.
The new version steers back toward campy theater. It loses an all-knowing narrator and instead streamlines Kim Wood — who also fronts the ’80s tribute band The Nancy Rayguns — into both host and central character.
Wood is a charismatic force at the center of a solid team effort. She works a lot of “Clueless” posturing and solid improv skills with the audience into her misdirected attempts to lure the hunky but lunky guy (Alex Lum) away from the hot chick (Katherine Leigh).
Their story is told in broad, sketch comedy strokes yet somehow manages to make us a little bit invested by the time Wood’s love note to the totally rad hot guy is, like, almost intercepted by the quirky friend (Kolton Rostron) who, like, totally likes her, and ends up being mistaken for a gay come-on by the hot guy. Bogus, dude.
That’s about it for dramatic plot twists. But it’s enough to set up a well-chosen barrage of ’80s pop ranging from Madonna’s “Material Girl” to A-ha’s “Take On Me.” There are fewer songs this time, but they all have a reason to be there.
There’s still plenty of time to drag up audience volunteers for Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time” or Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love,” one of the things everyone seemed to like about “Legwarmers.”
Does all that mean “The 80s Show” now has a future? Alas, probably not. Well, I should say it has probably gone as far as it can on the second stage of the V Theater, which doesn’t come with theatrical lighting or much space for the band this show so desperately needs, instead of underpumped recorded tracks that suppress the energy.
Still, I can close my eyes and picture some happy future for “The 80s Show.” Maybe on a cruise ship. Or in a room such as the one where “Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding” plays at Bally’s, where the audience isn’t lined up in folding chairs, but could come in and have a drink and engage with a DJ before the show unfolds in front of, yes, a live band.
A long shot, yes. But ask any John Hughes protagonist. Sometimes the underdog wins.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.