TAMPA — If you can instantly identify the TV theme songs of Dallas, Knight Rider and The A-Team, then the Florida Orchestra's "Totally Awesome '80s" is right down your alley.
I'm afraid I missed most of them — I did recognize the music from Hill Street Blues — but then, I'm not a child of the '80s. With no song list in the playbill, the only reason I know a lot of what was played Friday night at the Straz Center was that I was sitting next to our "Stuck in the ’80s" guy, Steve Spears, who laughed at all the jokes about Alf and knew the orchestra musicians were going to play the Friends theme long before they actually played it.
Guest conductor Sarah Hicks, who devised the program and premiered it a few weeks ago for the Minnesota Orchestra, for whom she is principal pops conductor, was a hoot. Dressed in acid-washed jeans ("Did we really wear these?" asked Hicks, a child of the ’80s herself) and purple leg warmers, she was like the Martha Quinn (one of the original VJs on MTV) of the podium, a perky, fun presence, peppering the show with ’80s trivia.
Hicks brought a four-piece rock band and singers from Minnesota to perform 17 numbers with the orchestra, ranging from the obviously symphonic (Separate Lives, the weepy duet by Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin from White Nights) to the challenging, such as Bon Jovi's rocking Living on a Prayer (not bad at all) or Human League's (Keep Feeling) Fascination, which fell flat.
Unfortunately, the two lead singers, Michelle Christina Delgado and Jared Oxborough, gave spotty, underpowered performances, though the backup vocal quartet, the Rock Lobsters, was a nice theatrical touch.
Highlights included Cyndi Lauper's haunting Time After Time and the impressionistic orchestration for Every Breath You Take, the Police song. Thriller had the best sound effects.
As a stage production, "Totally Awesome ’80s" felt like a work in progress. The sound design was barely adequate, the lighting design was nonexistent and only a few orchestra members got into the spirit by dressing in ’80s character (Don Johnson from Miami Vice was represented in the trumpet section). And surely a show like this could use some video.
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716.