TR Robertson…. If you were in high school or in college in the 90’s or if you simply remember any part of the 90’s, you will want to take in the San Diego Musical Theatre latest production currently on stage at the Horton Grand Theatre. How many musicals have you been to where you are yelling out and singing along with most of the songs and routines in the musical? You will at this one. “Pump Up the Volume: A 90’s Palooza” is a fast paced, nostalgic trip through the 1990’s using video and photos projected on a multi-level set, appropriate 90’s costumes, classic 90’s music and above all a talented, energetic cast. The musical is the creation of Colleen Kollar Smith and Jon Lorenz, creators of San Diego’s longest running “Homegrown” musical, “MiXtape”. For “Pump Up the Volume” Smith is the Director and Choreographer and Lorenz is the Music Director and Arranger. Costume Designer Janet Pitcher and Hair and Wig Designer Peter Herman created a perfect 90’s look.
The “Pump Up the Volume Band” included Band Leader/Key board – Taylor Peckham, Guitar – Rik Ogden, Guitar – Leo Correia, Bass – Haarley Magsino, Drums – Brian Hall.
Photos provided by SDMT
As audience members enter the theatre, the multi-leveled splatter painted set is displaying multitudes of images from the 90’s. Set Designer Michael McKeon along with Lighting Designer Christina Martin created an effective venue for the cast to perform on with timely lighting creating a variety of moods. These images included logos from the time period, video game titles, pogs, news pictures from the 90’s, and much more. As lights dimmed in the theatre, the images of characters from “South Park” appeared and in classic “South Park” voices began to explain the rules of the theatre – no cell phones, no video, etc. At this point, the 7 member cast enters on stage one at a time, on their cell phones, beginning to speak and sing about the world they are living in. Desiring to escape from the time they are in, the driving sound of “Off to Never Never Land” blast out and we are suddenly back to the 1990’s. Each of the cast begins to express thoughts about the 90’s, like Crystal Clear Pepsi, Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Teen Angst.
This talented cast includes Brielle Batino, Cassie Bowerman, Joshua David Cavanaugh, James Royce Edwards, Janaya Jones, Leonard Patton and Edred Utomi. Several of the actors/actresses are new to the SDMT stage and all are veteran actors and actresses with lots of regional theatre performances. Strong voices, great stage presence and facial expressions helped them with the fast paced, quick scene changes necessary for this musical. All of the performers had various solo numbers as well as voices that blended in with the different routines and songs. One audience favorite was Edred Utomi, new to SDMT, whose facial expressions stood out as Will Smith, MC Hammer, and many others. Janaya Maahealani Jones sang an especially moving Whitney Houston, “I Will Always Love You”.
My son Brian, who attended the musical with me, said it best; “This reminds me of my high school years and my Senior Prom”. The images and songs used to portray the 90’s was overwhelming and the variety was amazing. Everything from cartoons and their songs (“Duck Tales”, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, “Power Rangers”, “Pokémon”), to T.V. shows (“Bill Nye the Science Guy”, “Fresh Prince of Bel Air”, “Friends”, “In Living Color”, “Saved By the Bell”, “Nickelodeon”, “Arsenio” and more) to movies and their theme songs (Bryan Adams and “Robin Hood” and Celine Dion and “Titanic” to name a few). As different cast members sang the songs, they would occasionally break into the dances from the 90’s, like swing, vogue, grunge and the Carlton.
The musical genre covered every style imaginable – Boy bands, Girl Groups, Hip Hop, Rap, Rock, Alternative, and everything in between. Music from performers and groups like Beastie Boys, Aerosmith, Madonna, Brittany Spears, Vanilla Ice, Will Smith, MC Hammer, Bjork, Boys to Men, No Doubt, Ricky Martin, Spice Girls, Mark Anthony, Beyoncé, Shania Twain, Chris Isaak, Radiohead, Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, NSync, Back Street Boys, Pearl Jam, Green Day and many, many more. Billy Ray Cyrus and “Achy Breaky Heart” even made the list along with Milli Vanilli. A Rave scene, starting Act II, brought out glow sticks for the audience leading to music from “Twin Peaks” and a quick scene from “X Files” with Mulder and Scully. The audience also cheered on the songs from Stadium Rock music, such as “Get Ready for This” and Space Jam. Several Saturday Night Live skits reminded the audience of how popular SNL was then. Audience favorites like the Will Farrell and Molly Shannon Spartan cheerleader routine, Mike Myers Coffee Talk and Wayne’s World.
Throughout the show the cast would mention items popular during the 90’s or ones that began in the 90’s. Some of these included pagers, rotary dial-up internet, Napster, Furbies, Beanie Babies, VHS movie tapes, and don’t forget those popular video games – Sonic, War Craft, Super Mario Brothers, Myst, & we kept in touch with MTV and MTV News. News images appeared on the back walls that included the Cold War ending and USSR dissolving, LA riots, Pres. Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, Oklahoma City bombing, Atlanta Olympic bombing, JFK Jr.’s death, Columbine, Hurricane Andrew, Princess Di’s death, OJ’s acquittal of murder, Y2K and more. How about the movies from the 90’s – “Pulp Fiction”, “Forrest Gump”, “Jurassic Park”, “Home Alone”, “Titanic”, “Silence of the Lambs”, “The Matrix”, “Lion King”, “Big Lebowski”, “Braveheart”, “American Pie”, “Sixth Sense”, “Independence Day” to name a few. There were also references to the various musical events many attended – Woodstock 94, Warped Tour 96, Lollapalooza 96 and 97. Also interspersed in the musical was the lingo popular in the 90’s. Do you remember – Sup, Bling, As If, Talk to the Hand, Hater, Wicked, Chick Flick, You be Trippin’, Dope, YoY o Homie, Yadda Yadda Yadda, What Up Dog, It’s All Good, Cha-Ching, Bugg’n, You go Girl, How You Doin’ and hundreds more?
The cast comes back to reality in “Back to Life, Back to Reality”, “Closing Time”, and “Right Here Right Now”. James Royce Edwards, as Rico, reminds us that “You live, you learn, you dream, you hold on for one more day.” He tells us we all need anthems for our lives that will help get us through the day as the “world is so noisy” and at times we need help.
This show is definitely a trip down memory lane and even better is the fact that the music is great, the performances are tremendous, and it is funny and extremely entertaining. This is a must see musical for theatre goers. The musical will run until September 10th. Tickets are available at www.sdmt.org or call 858-560-5740. The musical takes place at The Horton Grand Theatre at 444 Fourth Avenue in San Diego.