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Audio Postcard: A Theatrical Homage To The 80s And The Mixtape

The cast of "miXtape." Photo by J.T. MacMillan.
The cast of "miXtape." Photo by J.T. MacMillan.
"miXtape" At Lamb's Players Theatre
An audio postcard featuring a behind-the-scenes look at the new musical revue from Lamb's Players called "miXtape."

Making a mixtape for someone has become a lost art in today's digital world. IPod playlists and swapping thumbdrives is certainly more efficient, but far more clinical, than the process (and what a process!) of making a mixtape of well-chosen, meaningful songs.

Jon Lorenz co-wrote the book to "miXtape," a musical revue produced by Lamb's Players. He remembers the amount of effort that went into making a mixtape. "You had to sit down and painstakingly make a tape or sit next to the radio and hope the song you wanted would come on. And then sometimes you'd get part of the DJ on there, or part of some stupid commercial."

"MiXtape" is a theatrical homage to that arduous process as well as to the pop culture and music of the 1980s. I stopped by rehearsal for the musical two weeks ago, did some recording, and produced the audio postcard above.

I spoke with Lorenz and his co-writer Colleen Kollar Smith. They're both San Diegans and came of age during the 1980s. Kollar Smith also made mixtapes back in the day: "I would get highlighters because it was the closest thing we had to florescent and I would design and use block letters to label the mixtape and then color it in with the highlighter."

Cassettes and mixtapes are back in circulation in hipster circles, just as 80s music and legwarmers have been throughout the "oughts." But out in the mainstream, the idea of the mixtape is still a time capsule; a way to rewind our musical memories to hair bands, The Cure, the emergence of Michael Jackson, and the dominance of the Top 40 format.

Lance Arthur Smith plays Jake in "miXtape." "I was 12 and I was informed that I was this girl's boyfriend and I was forced to make a mixtape and told here is a list of our songs. 'Don't You Forget About Me' was on there."

That song from John Hughes' film "The Breakfast Club" was a popular anthem to the times. The creators of "miXtape" based the characters (don't expect a lot of plot - this is about the music, after all) on the "types" depicted in Hughes' beloved teen drama. There's a jock, a rebel, a popular princess, a nerd, and a slightly crazy outcast.

Any representation of the 80s means a parade of fashion mishaps. Has there been a better run of bad fashion? Season Duffy plays Summer in "miXtape." "We pull out some of the most horrendous outfits for this. I mean, not just spandex, but shiny spandex which is really humiliating." She giggles and shakes her head. "How was that ever ok?"

Jemima Dutra is the costume designer for "miXtape." She spent a lot of time in LA vintage shops looking for the right outfits for the cast. "There's a lot of big hair, neon, skin tight things, ruffles and taffeta in this play." Dutra admits that to achieve the towering 80s hair, a significant investment in Aqua Net was required.

I asked Kollar Smith how she would describe the 80s to someone who never lived through the decade. She seized upon the fashion trends: "I'd put my hair in a side ponytail and wear a hyper-color neon shirt that you could breathe on and it would change colors. And I would do jazzercise to synthesized music."

Speaking of the music, theater-goers can expect to see performances of beloved favorites along with 80s standards from the likes of Michael Jackson, The Go-Go's, Wham!, and Run-D.M.C.

"It was really difficult to pick the songs. We started out making a list of all the songs that had to be in the show and that list was like 350 songs long," said Lorenz.

Kollar Smith agreed. "This type of show has at least twice as much music as a regular musical."

Lorenz continued, "I knew we had to get Chicago in there with those power ballads. I knew Journey had to be in there somewhere. But I really wanted to include 'In Your Eyes.'" I faked ignorance. I innocently asked, "How does that go again?" (Really, I've seen "Say Anything" hundreds of times).

True theatrical types, Lorenz and Kollar Smith launched into an a capella version of the Peter Gabriel hit made famous by the trench-coat wearing, boom-box holding, forever earnest Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack).

We were all speaking the same language in that moment, bonding over a beloved cultural touchstone. And that's just the kind of experience the creators and cast of "miXtape" want to create for San Diego audiences.

"miXtape" is currently playing at Lamb's Players' downtown location at the Horton Grand Theater. It runs through October 3rd.

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