JOHN D. POLING For The Pantagraph
Part of the joy of the 1970s decade was our garish style choices. The patterns, the colors, the collars, the flair – the gold lamé. What were the Americans thinking!?
We could choose to deny all the tacky excesses of the “Me Decade” except – why?? — when the Barn III Dinner Theater’s Conklin Players are having so much fun in their latest production, “Live From The Barn: It’s The ’70s!”, on view through April 10.
Yes, the costumes are up to all the garish glory of the 70s. And the wigs? Well, there were so many that it was surprising that a wig wrangler wasn’t in the program. But our fondness for the 1970s would only be a faint whisper if it were based only on questionable style choices. The 70s, however, had a lot of kick-butt music; Sirius XM doesn’t have an entire channel dedicated to it for nothing. And it is in the music that this latest production from Barn reaches the heights.
I could sing the praises of all seven performers (and I will in a moment), but the real star of this show isn’t on stage — it’s head writer, Jimmy LaHood. It’s LaHood (who must be at least an 80s kid) who understands that the 70s are satisfying. The younger crowd digs their kitschy comedic vibe with lots of great songs. For more experienced folks, it feels nostalgic, familiar, and communal. A time when we all watched the same three channels and knew all the popular TV shows. (Come on, watch PBS? Not prime time, baby.)
But where LaHood really shines is in song selection and mixing. In two hours of show, he manages to cram nearly a hundred songs from the 70s. And that’s without counting two dozen more in a “Name That Tune TV Trivia” sketch. One marvels at how he blends so many divergent songs into mixes that keep releasing one great track after another.
Is there a conspiracy? Nominally, but one isn’t really necessary. Detective Colombo (Nate Gaik) jumps in and out of the show to search for the “murderer” of John Travolta’s 70s characters. It’s silly and fun; and Gaik has fun at several points on the show partnering with real-life wife Pat Gaik in classic ’70s comedy sketches — the best of which is an ode to Johnny Carson’s “Carnac the Magnificent.” Hioooo!
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And then there is the music. The songs just seem to bring out the 70s sweet spot in Tamra Challacombe. Whether it’s Karen Carpenter, Helen Reddy, Toni Tennille or Cher, her voice is a piece of sweet ’70s pop candy – and perfection. Sagan Drake channels his inner disco diva on “Last Dance” and “I Will Survive.” Newcomer Daniel Olsson causes a stir in his first Barn production. He’s featured throughout much of the show, and while he may play a sappy ’70s tune like “Shannon” (about the death of an Irish setter) for a laugh, it’s clear this tenor has chops. voice. I predict we’ll see a lot more of it.
You can ask, “Is there a place for the unfortunate Dan Challacombe in this production?” Of course there are. (Steve Martin fans won’t be disappointed.) Dave Windsor’s billing should probably be a “special guest star,” since he only shows up once near the end of Act I, but he sings a terrific mix of Barry Manilow, nimblely navigating some of the show’s trickiest song transitions.
And did I mention the food? Try the brisket, it’s delicious!