LegWarmers fails to heat up the ’80s

john-tomasello-vj-chris-cruise.jpgHow much 1980s can 2012 take?

Before Reagan-era send-up Rock of Ages arrives in December at the Venetian as the genre’s main course, Planet Hollywood serves up an appetizer in LegWarmers: An 80s Musical, in previews at Miracle Mile Shops’ V Theater.

Consider it a lesson in the dangers of using a good position to make a bad decision. Kudos are due producer/director Sirc Michaels, whose Evil Dead: The Musical 4-D—despite its shortcoming of being too long—is an entertaining romp that made Strip history by being the first show incubated in community theater (at Onyx) that then transferred to the Strip, debuting at the V last spring.

Packing Strip cred now, Michaels leapt into the sudden void when interactive Awesome 80s Prom bombed, writing and rushing LegWarmers—likewise ’80s-themed and mildly interactive—into that V slot without benefit of the out-of-town tryout, if you will, of community theater. Result: LegWarmers—at least in preview form—couldn’t cut it at Onyx, let alone Planet Hollywood.

Undercooked, disjointed and sometimes embarrassingly inept, the hourlong LegWarmers wants to be an affectionate poke in the ribs, particularly to John Hughes movies. However, with stick-figure characters unworthy of a Kiwanis Club sketch, created as an excuse to sing, it forgets that parody needs actual personalities so satire is rooted in something real. What’s left amounts to frat-house karaoke.

LegWarmers opens with a VJ host  (yes, it’s the MTV heyday), who’s more a throwback to a 1950s hipster jazz cat, trying to rev us up with a sing-along of “Video Killed the Radio Star” (surprise, right?) and gets a mini-mojo going before it wilts with the start of the story: Meet gangly nerd Jack and his teen pals, including the Brit punk (with pink-streaked hair and spiked collar), the cool kid, the hottie object of Jack’s lust, and, naturally, the nice girl he takes for granted but will fall for after he wises up, yadda-etcetera-whatever.

Funny, zippy dialogue that might enliven the hackneyed setup is nearly nonexistent, and you pity performers muddling through this, playing numbing stereotypes. Throwaway ’80s references abound, citing Moonlighting, Boy George, Rick Astley and Caddyshack. Backed by recorded tracks, the cast sings the era’s signature songs including “The Ballroom Blitz,” “It’s the End of the World As We Know It,” “Every Breath You Take,” “I Want You to Want Me” and “Don’t You Forget About Me.”  Audience members are coaxed into occasional shtick, such as young ladies fake guitar-strumming through “Addicted to Love.”

Yet with no realistic characters, songs lack resonance within the “plot.” Performers sing to us rather than expressing the songs’ sentiments to each other. Were that not enough, it’s sabotaged by sloppy staging: Several characters linger onstage aimlessly during numbers, and actors wander into darkness when lights fail to follow them to the sides of the stage or into the crowd.

Previews should refine a show. LegWarmers first has to become a show.

STRIP POSTSCRIPT:  Our favorite wink-wink of the week? Crazy Girls—which we’ll review in detail next week to mark its 25th anniversary—threw itself a party with a “pink carpet” reception. Some jokes write themselves. Feel free to write that one.

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