Regional Reviews: San Diego
Pump Up the Volume
Also see Bill's review of Ken Ludwig's Robin Hood!
The show has an extremely loose plot. Seven modern adults, including Alicia (Cassie B), Dee (Janaya Mahealani Jones), and Rico (James Royce Edwards) are living relatively boring lives. All of a sudden, they are transported back to the 1990s. Everyone is soon watching cartoons of the era, portraying famous movie characters, and singing songs from the likes of 'N Sync, Metallica, and Destiny's Child. Certain time travelers also reminisce about things that had a positive impact on their lives.
Lorenz and Smith throw in nostalgic references every few seconds in this production at the Horton Grand Theatre. Allusions range from television series such as "Full House" and "Friends," to the Milli Vanilli lip-sync scandal. These situations are often hilarious and feature plenty of wit. A very funny Jurassic Park homage and a timely Home Alone 2: Lost in New York joke particularly stand out.
In addition to partially coming up with the structure, Smith directs and choreographs. Lorenz provides musical arrangements and is the musical director for the evening. The result is a real and exciting collaborative effort combining melodies, old school dancing, and comedy throughout the performance.
On opening night, there were a few instances where performers had to quickly catch up to the tempo of the multi-talented Pump Up the Volume band that includes band leader/keyboardist Taylor Peckham, bassist Harley Magsino, drummer Brian Hall, and guitarist/vocalist Leo Correia. Despite that minor problem, ensemble members such as B., Jones, Edwards, Leonard Patton, Joshua David Cavanaugh, and Edred Utomi (who pulls off Smith's most physically demanding choreography on Michael McKeon's set) show musical versatility belting out rock and roll, R&B, and pop tunes. Often singing snippets of different singles, they cover melodies made famous by Britney Spears, Pearl Jam, Vanilla Ice, and the derriere-loving Sir Mix-a-Lot. Each performer, partly owing to Janet Pitcher's costumes, also visually captures the personas of various movie and television characters. Through Pitcher's contributions, the players get to humorously depict memorable heroes and heroines such as the Men in Black and "X Files" FBI special agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.
While it is mostly a light experience, the show has some situations that are played completely straight. Monologues from Lorenz and Smith, although occasionally serious, are meant to be motivational and empowering. Dee's reflection on her prom and a speech from Rico about music fit with the feel-good tone used in most of the show. Several sequences include tragic and dark situations in the '90s. Hurricanes and other grim events are shown on McKeon's projections during a sequence that features Aerosmith's "Livin' on the Edge." Even more tragic is a scene that uses Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" and Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Both Soundgarden's frontman, Chris Cornell, and Nirvana's lead singer, Kurt Cobain, shocked fans and the public when they committed suicide. Mournful lighting from Christina Martin and Brielle Batino's elegiac rendition of the latter musical number remind audiences that these artists are still missed to this day.
Wistful and sing-along friendly, this time capsule journey isn't exclusively for Generation X aficionados. With irresistible energy and an eclectic cast and crew, theatregoers young and old will find plenty to enjoy throughout the entire staging. Get a free glowstick at the venue and prepare for a frequently fun crowd-pleaser.
San Diego Musical Theatre presents Pump Up the Volume through September 10, 2017, at 444 Fourth Avenue. Tickets start at $23.00 and be purchased online at www.sdmt.org or by phone at 1-858-560-5740.