Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
BratPack was produced by For The Record, a Los Angeles-based group creating theatre that is (in their words) "turning the soundtracks of iconic films into thrilling immersive theatrical experiences." If you were a teen or young adult in the '80s, the situations enacted within the walls of a transformed Feinstein's (the upstage wall has been covered with a cool assemblage of images of boomboxes, and posters of cassette tapes hang on the side walls) from those iconic movies will rocket you back to that time. The musicall those synth-heavy New Wave trackswill surely become earworms, so recognizable and catchy are they. Because unless you were in a monastery with no access to FM radio, you likely will have heard them all many times over. Yet despite their familiarity, the cast of eight multi-talented local performers will make them all fresh and new for you.
Though the stage at Feinstein's is by no means spacious, the For The Record crew wisely decided not to limit themselves by its confines, and cast members are often out in the audience, singing and dancing inches from us, or standing on tables, and entering and exiting from every corner of the room. (Fortunately for the shy, the performance is immersive but not interactiveaudience members are never called upon to participate in the proceedings.) The producers suggested audience members join in with the festivities by dressing in the finest '80s looks, and many on opening night took this suggestion to heart, with shoulder pads, leggings, neon colors, and acid-washed jeans scattered throughout the room. (Though I was shocked no one pulled their leg warmers from the back of the closet.)
The show begins on a hysterical note as the keyboard player and sax player (the only two cast members without speaking roles) make their wayin shiny silver suitsto the stage, backed by the classic Yello track, "Oh Yeah." As they do, they lip-synch along with that song's memorable "oh yeahs" and "chicka-chick-ahs." It's a perfect mood setter for the teen silliness to come.
There's not a true plot here, but there is a bit of story arc. It beginsas The Breakfast Club didwith a morning in detention with the Jock (Michael Martinez), the Brain (Bryan Munar), the Princess (May Ramos), the Basket Case (Rachel Lark), and the Rebel (Zahan Mehta) being monitored by Mister (Scott Taylor-Cole), who sneeringly expresses his disdain for the quintet: "Five perfect arguments for a vasectomy." Over the course of the next 80 or so minutes the cast take on other roles from other teen films and play a wide selection of songs used in those films. May Ramos plays bass, Zahan Mehta is on lead guitar, Bryan Munar adds some additional synth work, while Michael Martinez and Rachel Lark bang on the two percussion stations set up at stage left.
The cast is uniformly excellenta wonderful reminder of the incredible talent pool we have in the Bay Area. Their strong voices, terrific comic chops, and brilliant musicality keep the show driving forward. (Bryan Munar deserves special kudos for his soulful take on one of the few non-'80s songs, "Try a Little Tenderness.")
If you love the '80s (and who doesn't, really?), you're going to love the song choices here. You'll get Bowie's "Young Americans" and "Changes." You'll hear Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes," Spandau Ballet's "True," The Vapors' "Turning Japanese" (which becomes "Turning Upside Down"), Soft Cell's "Tainted Love," and perhaps the most iconic of 80s teen movie tunes, Simple Mind's "Don't You (Forget About Me)," plus about a dozen more. When the cast break into "Don't You (Forget About Me)," it's almost as if the "me" in this case is the '80s themselves. Though there is a lot I personally would like to forget about the '80s (looking at you, ghost of Ronald Reagan), the music will live foreverthanks in some small part to BratPack.
BratPack runs through November 7, 2021, at Feinstein's at the Nikko, 222 Mason Street, San Francisco CA. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $67-$104, and are available at www.FeinsteinsSF.com.