By Trish Elliott
Theo Ubique is back with verve and fresh talent with 8-TRACK, a sung-through musical built around hit songs from the 1970s, devised by Rick Seeber, who created the long-running hit revue BEEHIVE: THE 60’S MUSICAL and features the music of The Emotions, The Carpenters, Labelle, Barry Manilow, The Doobie Brothers, The Bee Gees, Helen Reddy, and more! 8-TRACK premiered at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre in 2001, has enjoyed long runs at Detroit’s Century Theater and St. Paul’s Ordway Center and has been a hit in regional theaters across the country. Jeremy Ramey is the music director for 8-TRACK which will be performed until January 23, 2022
Rick Seeber conceived of this fun night, with a vast array of 70’s music from protest songs to “Convoy” There is a “Dusty Nightclub” feel in Theo’s very nice cabaret space.
I enjoyed the excellent musical direction by Jeremy Ramey, with the exception of something I wish wouldn’t ALWAYS happen: a singer with a big voice who starts out soft, then belts as hard as they possibly can at the end of the song: so predictable. We know they have big voices very early on, so surprise us! However, there were great harmonies and blends.
The staging was very nice with great variety for the songs, a little story behind most of them, and context.
The four lead singers, plus a small chorus are on point, especially Mia Nevarez, who will have a lion career in Chicago if not stolen away by New York or LA. She is centered, natural, always full and present, dances as if that’s the only way to move, and styles and infuses her songs very personally. She had two of the most difficult, because we have heard them thousands of times: “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, and “You Light Up My Life” and made each her very own, and wonderfully touching.
The earth tone set was graphic, fun, and enveloped the audience on two sides. I found many of the costumes distracting: the men were wearing wigs where no wigs probably would have been a better choice. In the second act, when everyone reappears in their disco outfits, some were oddly unflattering, and jarring.
The choreography, by Jamal Howard, was creative, retro, and had lots of variety. There was a LOT of choreography and the cast handled that with ease and skill. The show uses the beautiful space of Theo very nicely, and invites the audience, in the cabaret setting, to be a part of the fun. The cast had a LOT of choreography, and handled it with ease and skill.
I’m not sure how many songs—maybe as many as 75? Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Sly and the Family Stone, Linda Ronstadt——an amazing array of 70’s songs that those of a certain age will adore. There were some kids in the audience and they seemed to love it as well.
A couple of the chorus members seemed desperate for attention, and might have toned down their performances, but they were always enthusiastic!
In the second act, when going into the disco section, it felt a bit frenetic, but the audience seemed to love it. I enjoyed the variety of the first act: the audience didn’t know where the music was going to take you next, and if you were like me, you knew every song and almost every lyric!
The audience loved the performance and showed their appreciation with a standing ovation. I felt the weak link, among the leads, was Patrick O’Keefe. While he’s working so hard in most of the show, he doesn’t let us see his heart. He had one great moment for me, in “Desperado”, and it was when he was just standing and singing the song.
DeWesly Anthony Clergé has a big voice, very clear and strong. I loved him in the protest section, and he has great control and a lovely instrument. I would love him to trust that more.
Following 8-TRACK in the season will be the musicals ONCE UPON A MATTRESS, playing March 11 – May 1, 2022; and GODSPELL, playing June 10 – July 31, 2022. Season packages for the remaining three shows are available. Preview subscriptions are$75 for show-only and $150 for dinner and show; regular performances are $110 show-only and $185 for dinner and show on Thursdays and Sundays; and $125 show-only and $200 for dinner and show on Fridays and Saturdays.
Theo Ubique will be requiring all audience members to be fully vaccinated from COVID-19 this season. Photo ID and proof of vaccination (photos or photocopies are acceptable) will be required at the door
Production Photos by Liz Lauren