The 90s was a time of boy bands and girl power and Y2K. It was a decade that I look back at with fondness, though some moments are definitely cringe worthy. Stage West Theatre has taken on the task of capturing the music of the 90s, in their newest show Pure 90s, created by Timothy French and Howard Pechet. It is a rewind in time, right back to New Year’s Eve back in 1999 and features all the great (and not so great) hits of the 90s. It’s fun and nostalgic, but the first half feels a little bit of a stretch in terms of singing and capturing the vocals of the songs. The second half flows, with the music and songs more in the range of the actors on stage. Pure 90s is a fun look back, but could use a couple improvements.
The show opens to the entire ensemble singing ‘Here we go let’s rock n’ roll’ by C+C Music Factory. The cast is costumed (by Leslie Robison-Greene) in colourful outfits with backwards ball caps and they dance around a stage designed by Sean D Ellis that features arches in the background to match the vibrant colours of the costumes. Our MC of the night (Andrew McGillivray) welcomes us to New Year’s Eve 1999 and sets the scene that this broadcast will visit different newscasters across Canada to share how the night is being celebrated. It’s a loose narrative to tie the production together and features McGillivray in various costumes and accents, satirizing everyone from coast to coast to coast. The music takes us from Country Stars Shania Twain, to the Spice Girls and to Latin Star Ricky Martin. The ensemble includes Michelle Bardach, Adriana Crivici, Sarah Horsman, Madelyn Kriese, and Victoria Scully for the ladies, while Gaelan Beatty, Dean Deffett, Jeremy Carver-James, Calvin Laveck, Jesse Weafer, Jacob Woike and McGillivray make up the guys.
The first to kick off is Britney Spears with her hits ‘Baby One More Time and ‘Oops! I Did It Again’ and though costuming and choreography were on point, the vocals were a bit off. The singing wasn’t as strong for these numbers, but when the show moved on to Bryan Adams and K.D Lang, it really picked up. A highlight in the first half was the Barenaked Ladies with their hits of ‘If I had A Million Dollars’ and ‘One Week,’ as the singers on stage definitely looked the part this number featured energetic singing. (Even the super tongue twister in the middle of ‘One Week.’) The portion that featured Shania Twain had several singers in different costumes that replicated Shania’s outfits throughout the decade. Pure 90s featured both Janet Jackson and Michael Jackson, (Antonette Rudder and Jeremy Carver-James respectively) and those numbers were a lot of fun and featured some great vocals, especially from Rudder. Then the show leads us to what most of us have been waiting for, namely the boy bands and girl bands of the 90s. The show features great costuming and precise choreography for the Spice Girls and N’SYNC, but the Backstreet Boys could use a bit more curation.
The second half of the show picked up in energy and stronger vocals, namely actors singing songs by Celine Dion and Garth Brooks as it was impressive to see actors on stage killing it when singing ‘My Heart Will Go On’ and ‘Ain’t Going Down (‘Till The Sun Comes Up).’ The ensemble then moved into Latin music with the ‘Macarena’ and ‘Livin La Vida Loca,’ complete with the dance moves.
The newscasters broadcasting in from different parts of the country (all played by McGillivray) is a little fraying as it tries to be comedic and funny, but misses the mark most of the time, though the 90s trivia is quite fun.
The ensemble has their highs and lows in vocals, but the second half of Pure 90s is pure fun.
Stage West’s production of Pure 90s runs until February 4th. More information is available online.