‘Legwarmers – An ’80s Musical’ a no-frills enterprise

Although “Rock of Ages” offers a big-budget comic salute to the crazy ’80s days of MTV and VHS, there’s a direct-to-video alternative called “Legwarmers – An ’80s Musical.”

The community-based musical at the V Theater can function as either a cheaper option to “Rock,” or a supplement for those who can’t get enough ’80s nostalgia, much in the way Redbox DVDs such as “Almighty Thor” or “Clash of the Empires” take us back to the days of video stores with miles of aisles of VHS tape shelves to fill.

Technically, “Legwarmers” isn’t a direct response to The Venetian’s “Rock,” but to a short-lived interactive show called “The Awesome 80s Prom.”

When the local presenters didn’t see eye to eye with the New York producer of that one, writer-director Sirc Michaels summoned the spirit of drive-in auteur Roger Corman and cranked out “Legwarmers” in six weeks to replace it.

The no-frills enterprise gives extra work to the young cast members of Michaels’ “Evil Dead: The Musical” in the same theater complex. And by tweaking it on its feet since a low-key arrival last fall, Michaels has taken “Legwarmers” to the point where he almost has something here.

Still, “almost” or “nice try,” describes the whole affair. The jokey writing is on par with “Rock,” with which it shares a winking attitude and an all-knowing host/narrator.

But the rest of it reminds you how much better “Legwarmers” would be if it had the bigger show’s set. Or its costumes. Its live band. Or quality of performer.

“Legwarmers” is family-friendly and explores a different, more wholesome side of the ’80s, the teen angst movie comedies of the late John Hughes. And it doesn’t repeat a single song from “Rock,” proving there’s plenty of ’80s to go around, from the poppy “99 Red Balloons” to the alt-cool of REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”

But “Legwarmers” walks a frustrating line between a book musical and plotless, cruise ship-style revue. Songs break out after only a few lines of dialogue, and the singers tend to play straight to the audience rather than croon to one another.

But it doesn’t develop into much of a story. And if it stands as a revue, you can’t ignore some weak singing, or the use of backing tracks instead of a live band (which is easier to do amid the other distractions of “Evil Dead”).

Seven performers work a bare stage in front of the theater’s video wall (which allows backgrounds on TV screens of different sizes, but all of them have to display the same image). They get the crowd on their side; if not through sheer effort, then by dragging some patrons to the stage for audience participation.

The players are almost good enough to withstand this level of constant scrutiny - there’s no hiding in the chorus here – but only a couple of them are really up to all that’s asked of them.

Most roles are shared by different performers, but you are in good hands on nights with John Tomasello as the manic “Vee-Jay” who guides things along and rewards audience members with rubber bracelets for knowing their ’80s trivia.

On this night, Evan Schmalz anchored things as the John Cusack normal guy, who gets to deliver normal line readings to balance the comic sidekick (Kolton Rostron this night) prone to an arch, “Riddle me this, Batman!” cadence.

“Just like the patterns those movies followed in the ’80s,” as the Vee-Jay tells us, the Cusack guy’s infatuation is misdirected to the popular girl (Jaden Osborne on this night) – “more of an object than a fully fleshed-out character” – instead of the quirky girl he grew up with (Sam Murphy at this show).

It gets to the predictable finale in 70 minutes that are still padded with detour songs that don’t move the story.

But rest assured, Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” is every bit as strong a closer as Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” is for “Rock.” So much so that you wonder if you’d be better off at one of the unauthorized adaptations of “The Breakfast Club” around the country. Or when Broadway will get around to a real one.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@
reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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