There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with being formulaic when the formula mixes crowd-pleasing song selections, fresh and stylish musical arrangements, and knock-out performances. That pretty much sums up a trademark accomplishment of The American Pops Orchestra and Music Director Luke Frazier. Friday night’s concert was a 1980s pop hits feast. Yes, it’s a time period remembered cringingly for leg warmers, mutant shoulder pads, headbands, designer-ripped clothing, and a curious fascination with crucifixes as costume jewelry, but it also was filled with iconic musical performances captured on record and video.
Frazier, who was probably in kindergarten at the end on the ’80s, took the stage in b-boy fashion sporting parachute pants and day-glo fluorescent green LED sneakers. An opening montage of clips from movies, television, nightly news and music videos drew laughs, hoots, cheers and applause from the audience.
’80s Olympic diving champion, sports legend and best-selling author, Greg Louganis, hosted the evening. Decked in white suit and shades, Louganis made for a dashingly handsome master of ceremonies, offering reflections on the era and on his sports triumphs, and introducing the evening’s stars.
Patrice Covington, recently in the award-winning Broadway revival of The Color Purple, is a brilliant flame of talent, a statuesque Venus with a virtuoso voice which she let soar on two Whitney Houston classics, “All At Once” and “Greatest Love Of All,” as well as “Time After Time” and “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” She’s so charismatic that, unfortunately, the audience’s whooping and applauding often drowned out the dramatic finishes to her songs.
It was delightful to have Bayla Whitten back with The American Pops Orchestra. She wittily camped it up on Madonna’s “Material Girl” and “Like a Virgin” — with a sly wink to her mom-to-be (twins no less) condition, and switched gears for a soulful “Sweet Dreams,” originally sung by Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics. However, the comedy gem of the evening was her duet with Warren Freeman on the endless ballad, “Endless Love.” Two hearts that beat as one, indeed.
Justin Keyes started off with a mellow rendition of “I Just Called To Say I Love You.” He amped up the energy in rockin’ renditions of two Michael Jackson mega-hits, “Billie Jean” (aka the Maury Povich Show paternity anthem) and “Thriller” (complete with the voice over narration at the end originally provided by Vincent Price). Already a Broadway veteran, Keyes has handsome, leading-man looks (well, when not sporting a green headband, I’m sure) and a distinctive voice with a great vocal range that sets him apart from the crowd. I can imagine him in dozens of musical roles.
Warren Freeman added an antic “new wave” edge to the evening on “You Spin Me Round” and “I Want To Know What Love Is.” The 1980s wasn’t totally diva driven, and Freeman’s delivery on “You Spin Me Round” reminded me of folks like Ric Ocasek, David Byrne or even David Bowie. His movements were all angles and edges, flirtatious, and sheer zany fun.
DJ and Mixtape impresario Shea Van Horn ramped up the energy on “You Spin Me Round,” and instrumental versions of “Straight Up,” “Karma Chameleon,” and “When Doves Cry.”
Kelly Crandall d’Amboise directed and choreographed the program, providing chorus dancers to support the singers, but equally letting the dancers take the star spotlight — Sophia Adoum, Jordan DeBona, Maddie Dunn, Jocelyn Isaac, Lucy Spring, Rachel Stover, Tony Thomas II, and Willow Williams. Precision movements, leaps and lifts filled the stage; especially popular were “Walk Like An Egyptian” and “Flashdance.”
“l Wanna Dance With Somebody,” brought all the performers together for a joyous finale brought the audience to their feet. Can’t wait for next season ’cause Luke Frazier and the American Pops Orchestra are “Burning Down the House!”
“Money For Nothing” (Dire Straits) / American Pops Orchestra, Dancers
“I Just Called To Say I Love You” (Stevie Wonder) / Justin Keyes
“Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” (Wham!) / American Pops Orchestra, Dancers
“All At Once” (Whitney Houston) / Patrice Covington
“You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)” (Dead Or Alive) / Warren Freeman, DJ Shea Van Horn
“Like A Virgin” (Madonna) / Bayla Whitten, Dancers
“Walk Like An Egyptian (The Bangles)” / American Pops Orchestra, Dancers
“Billie Jean” (Michael Jackson) / Justin Keyes
“Straight Up” (Paula Abdul) / DJ Shea Van Horn
“Time After Time” (Cyndi Lauper) / Patrice Covington
“Material Girl” (Madonna) / Bayla Whitten, Dancers
“Endless Love” (Lionel Richie & Diana Ross) / Warren Freeman, Bayla Whitten
“Karma Chameleon” (Culture Club) / DJ Shea Van Horn
“What’s Love Got To Do With It?” (Tina Turner) / Patrice Covington
“Thriller” (Michael Jackson) / Justin Keyes, Dancers
“I Want To Know What Love Is” (Foreigner) / Warren Freeman
“Sweet Dreams” Eurythmics) / Bayla Whitten
“When Doves Cry” (Prince) / DJ Shea Van Horn
“Flashdance What A Feeling” (lrene Cara) / American Pops Orchestra, Dancers
“Greatest Love Of All (Whitney Houston) / Patrice Covington
“l Wanna Dance With Somebody” (Whitney Houston) / Company
Running time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
You Spin Me ‘Round: An ’80s Dance Party was performed for one-night -only 0n April 7, 2017, at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium – 730 21st Street NW, in Washington, DC. For more information on The American Pops Orchestra, go to their website.
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