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Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on August 8th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 23 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 23

I want it that way: Melodrama's The Mix Tape celebrates 1990s nostalgia

By Rebecca Rose

In 1999, I was living in Indiana and working as a part-time photographer. I had a car with a five-CD changer and I thought it was the most technologically advanced piece of equipment that had ever existed. The '90s, my college glory days, were rolling past me and I was heading right into Y2K paranoia madness and the full brunt of adulthood.

It's hard to capture what that specific era was like. As the millennium counted down, there was a sense of excitement and dread of what we could be facing. (Nuclear holocaust? Global war? Another season of Friends?) Mostly, it was the music that grounded our consciousness in that era. While we were seized by panic fits wondering if a misplaced zero in a line of code would send us all into a dark abyss, Britney Spears was gleefully bopping around in crop top athleisure wear reminding us to not take things so damn seriously. It was a weird time.


HIT ME BABY ONE MORE TIME
The cast of the Great American Melodrama’s The Mix Tape includes (pictured left to right) Randa Meierhenry, Graham Galloway, and Anna Wentworth as three college girlfriends who aspire to musical glory in 1999.
PHOTO COURTESY OF GREAT AMERICAN MELODRAMA

At the Great American Melodrama in Oceano, they've done a nice job tapping into the cultural zeitgeist of that year in the comedy production The Mix Tape. The show centers on Molly (Graham Galloway) who's at a roller rink for a birthday party for her friend Becky's (Randa Meierhenry) child. Becky's disappointing husband, Kent (Cameron Parker), appears, and as Molly explains, life is not at all what she expected when she was back in college. Molly had dreams of being a singer but was eventually forced into songwriting and later a dreary office gig. She pines for her old boyfriend, Tim (Steven Makropoulos), also a singer who is now known as the "poor man's Josh Groban." Molly realizes it all went wrong in college, at Pacific Coast University in Oceano.

That's when Molly stumbles upon an arcade game at the roller rink, a fortune teller machine just like the one in the movie Big, which transformed a boy into grown-up Tom Hanks. Molly makes her wish and wakes up back in 1999, as a freshman at PCU.

There she runs into Becky, who is already being taken advantage of by her college boyfriend, Kent, who works himself to death paying for school in the servitude of Dean Martin (Ashley Whiting). The dean is basically telling everyone on scholarship that the school lost money to fund their education, so she makes them write commercial jingles and songs so that she can use the money the songs earn to renovate her home. As Molly becomes reunited with her first love, Tim, the kids find themselves on the road to stardom in the National Idol singing competition. I won't give any more spoilers away other than that.

As expected, Mix Tape delivers a string of vivacious musical numbers influenced by popular songs from the '90s, including Spears' "Slave 4 U" and Meredith Brooks' "Bitch." By the time they break into "This Is How We Do It" from Montell Jordan, it's clear Mix Tape is doing something especially extraordinary. The numbers give enough of a nod to nostalgia while still imbibing them with a sense of corny punniness that's actually quite befitting of the era in question. The 1990s were all a bit ridiculous, with absurd fashion and hairstyles that made everything we did in the 1980s seem rational by comparison. The songs speak to that absurdity as well as the chipper exuberance in pop culture.

This is how we do it
The Mix Tape runs through Sept. 15 at the Great American Melodrama in Oceano, 1863 Front St., Oceano. More info americanmelodrama.com or call (805) 489-2499.

The show also gives us an opportunity to see actress Ashley Janel Whiting, who also takes on the role of Mrs. Wiggins in The Blue-Collar Vaudeville Review. Whiting is a brilliant comedic actress who sails through multiple roles including Molly's father. But her real star turn is as the evil Dean Martin (heh) of PCU.

Whiting is a delight to watch as she barrels through song after song, contorting her body into ludicrous whips and poses, hitting each comedic beat perfectly. Plus, the girl can sing the hell out of an old song. She pulls big notes and best of all makes it look totally effortless. The dean is a great role, and Whiting whirls into with a dervish force that makes her memorable as a performer.

Anna Wentworth playing Daria, Molly's roommate, is another vibrant comedic performer who stands out. Wentworth is a scene stealer as the quiet goth girl dementedly torturing her dolls to death in between big musical numbers that show off her impressive singing voice. 

So leave all your 2010s existential ennui dread at home for a night and come relive a time when baby-doll dresses and jean jackets conveyed an air of sophistication and truly was a genuine escape. 

Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose regrets everything from the '90s. Contact her at rrose@santamariasun.com.




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