San Diego Theater Review: PUMP UP THE VOLUME: A 90’S PALOOZA (San Diego Musical Theatre)

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by Milo Shapiro on August 7, 2017

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


While the nineties might not sound that long ago to an older crowd, when was the last time you thought about Lorena Bobbitt? Or tamagotchis? Or wondered who was paging you? Yep, the 90s are already ripe for nostalgia and San Diego Musical Theatre is on target for milking it.

Pump Up The Volume is the follow-up to creators Jon Lorenz and Colleen Kollar Smith’s long running hit miXtape, their tribute to the 1980s. Following a similar formula—in which people are sent from present day to relive the music and memories of the past—PUTV is lively, playful, and full of good singing.

This delightful escapism, subtitled “A 90’s Palooza,” takes us back before cell phone interruptions and movie downloads. While delivered with fun energy, the show is sometimes geared for the under-forty crowd, who will no doubt reminisce about certain video games and pop icons, but some references went over the head of this fifty-something. And since this was an era when the family still gathered to watch TV, this revue treats us to song/dance numbers based on TV themes; while some may remember youth-oriented shows such as Duck Tales and Animaniacs, or the theme from Family Matters (“As Days Go By”), others may not experience the pang of recollection. Still, television tributes to In Living Color and classic SNL bits (like “Coffee Talk with Linda Richman” and Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri’s overly-committed Spartan Cheerleaders) take us back with a smile.

With sections of well over a hundred songs performed, there’s a need for plenty of shtick—and we get it. Kollar’s dances are sharp, her direction ensures that both physical and verbal humor keep coming, and Janet Pitcher’s period costumes are plentiful. There isn’t one weak link in the multi-talented cast, though the standout is Edred Utomi: In addition to great solos, his mugging yields numerous laughs. The ensemble is at its best when harmonizing (George Michael’s “Freedom”), but some solos also impress, such as Cassie B’s Lisa Loeb impression (Mr. Lorenz is both music director and arranger).

miXtape‘s formula still works, but two strong aspects of the original are greatly reduced. Missing are the numerous monologues that led into songs, helping to create stronger characters and heighten a song’s impact (the tributes to the AIDS quilt and the Challenger explosion were quite touching); these solo moments were a lovely break between the numbers. PUTV has almost no monologues until late in the show (Janaya Mahealani Jones speaks sensitively about her prom night). Also, this production is mostly consecutive clips and full songs, whereas miXtape included more mash-ups, which was another nice vehicle.

Corny at times, some might find this show to be similar in nature to a top-notch cruise ship entertainment—light fare done well but with little substance. If you can ebb expectations of anything deep, though, and especially if your birth year has a 7 or an 8 in the third digit, PUTV brings back good memories of a not-too-distant past in a joyful way.

photos by Ken Jacques

Pump Up the Volume: A 90’s Palooza
San Diego Musical Theatre Off-Broadway Series
Horton Grand Theatre, 444 Fourth Ave
Thurs at 7:30; Fri at 8; Sat at 4 & 8; Sun at 2
ends on September 10, 2017
for tickets, call 858.560.5740 or visit SDMT

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