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'8-Track' replays good times of '70s

October 11, 2003|Daryl H. Miller | Times Staff Writer

Life may not be a musical comedy, but everyday existence does unfold to a sort of soundtrack: the songs that follow you around from car radio to home stereo.

These tunes acquire a resonance as they become associated with events of the day. They become, in essence, little time capsules, capable of transporting listeners back in time.

A bunch of these capsules are opened at once, creating a time-machine effect, in "8-Track: The Sounds of the '70s," presented at the Hermosa Beach Playhouse by Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities.

Tapping the social consciousness of the era as well as its good-time vibe, the show's nearly 60 songs carry listeners from Marvin Gaye's exhortation "War is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate" to K.C. & the Sunshine Band's giddy invitation to "Get down, get down, get down, get down, get down tonight, baby."

Conceived and directed by Rick Seeber, a producer and director long associated with the '60s-music show "Beehive," "8-Track" is a greatest-hits compilation performed by a quartet of powerful, energetic singers. Trading off lead vocals and providing backup for one another, they render the songs pretty much like the originals.

The show doesn't breeze along on nostalgia alone, though. The songs are grouped into thematic medleys that sometimes give them playful new contexts.

In one amusingly unexpected sequence, for instance, the C.W. McCall novelty hit "Convoy" introduces a truck driver who picks up a moping hitchhiker. Asking what's wrong leads to the Paul Simon song "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover." Alone again, the truck driver settles down for the night and drifts off into a dream in which, in a beam of heavenly light, he's music personified in Barry Manilow's "I Write the Songs."

The singers perform to tracks prerecorded in a studio by as many as 15 instrumentalists. Appealing musical arrangements by Michael Gribbin often twine the voices in close harmony.

The singers -- the show's original cast when it emerged in Milwaukee in 2001 -- are well suited to the songs they're assigned, with Tonya Phillips particularly adept at the electric Motown sound, Nik Rocklin at powerhouse rock, Liana Young at smooth ballads and Teddey Brown at rock falsetto.

"8-Track" doesn't aspire to much -- just providing a good time. Whether it succeeds depends largely on the listener's fondness for the music. But at least some of these songs speak across generations, as was proved at Thursday's performance when, throughout the theater, gray-haired audience members joined in the arm gestures spelling out the title of the Village People hit "YMCA."


`8-Track: The Sounds of the '70s'

Where: Hermosa Beach Playhouse, 710 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach

When: Today, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; Tuesday-next Saturday, 8 p.m.; Oct. 19, 2 and 7 p.m.

Ends: Oct. 19

Price: $40-$45

Contact: (310) 372-4477

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

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