'80s Prom' holds little that's awesome

CelebritiesSatire (genre)Van Halen (music group)Molly Ringwald

A show that makes "Tony 'N' Tina's Wedding" look like Chekhov, "The Awesome 80s Prom" comes with various drink packages, including one that includes carte blanche at an open bar. Assuming you're neither driving nor have marriage vows within, say, 12 hours, this is the only viable option.

Do not experience this affair — or the denizens of this affair — in any state approaching sobriety. With apologies to Hamlet, such is not a consummation devoutly to be wished.

So be warned. In this time and place, the pink beverages of Bartyles & James are your only friends.

An off-Broadway concept show now sweeping the country, "The Awesome 80s Prom" is a re-creation — here in one of the spaces that used to make up the nighterie Circus — of the iconic high school prom, circa 1989.

Betwixt hits from the 1980s — we heard the timeless artistry of Def Leopard and Van Halen, among others — the Reagan-era students of Wannaget High compete for prom king and queen of the Molly Ringwald era, even while fighting off the ministrations of the kind of polyester principal immortalized by the actor Jeffrey Jones in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

There's nothing wrong with the concept — eccentric characters mixing with an audience, drinking and dancing is a tried-and-true idea that can be an awful lot of fun. And the decade that gave us "99 Red Balloons" deserves to be taken to the satiric cleaners.

But "The Awesome 80s Prom" is anything but. When you find yourself relieved that the rock group Journey is taking over the narrative trajectory of the evening, you know you are in some trouble.

The satire has neither a fresh odor nor a ring of truth. The physical setup here — a tiny stage on the far side of a dance floor — makes it difficult to hear dialogue that also has to compete with Dexy's Midnight Runners playing underneath, a fate you can wish on no actor.

On Saturday night, many people checked out of the shtick long before it finished and headed for the bar. Yet even for those who remained, there wasn't enough show to feel fully satisfied. For us '80s refugees, at least, the fun is all in the little details. Nothing here wants to go beyond the very broadest of strokes.

There are few amusing young actors stuck in all this — Ramsay Saunders, head of the Prom Committee, offered a droll explanation of her qualifications for royalty. There's a funny turn from Dawen Wang as Feung Schwey, the inevitable foreign exchange student. The stoner propositioning people outside was a nice, authentic touch.

But this one will, I suspect, play mainly to bachelorette and high school students. I used to occasionally frequent the 1980s room at the late, lamented nightclub Polyester's. There, at least, you could hang out with people who never left the actual '80s, which made getting old just a little easier.

cjones5@tribune.com

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