Especially for children of the 80s, the canon of movies put out by John Hughes and other directors of the so-called Brat Pack of young actors that included Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall are cultural touchstones not to be messed with. But at the same time, they are fairly formulaic products of their time, and they are ripe for parody and satire.
The musical revue BratPack, which grew out of a show that premiered in the spring of 2019 at a Koreatown karaoke club in Los Angeles, aims to mash up, satirize, and generally celebrate all these movies and their music at once, while also pointing out their similarities and recurring tropes. The geek who gets bullied and who pines for the girl who might also be his best friend? The misunderstood jock/heartthrob who's actually a pretty nice and vulnerable guy? The girl who isn't being noticed by the guy she's obsessed with but all the while her true love is possibly right in front of her? These are all archetypes of the teen film genre that hit its zenith around 1987, and was generally a part of the late 80s zeitgeist.
Co-created by Shane Scheel and Anderson Davis, whose group For the Record have been creating shows around film soundtracks for the last decade, BratPack is a clever mashup of least seven films — The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Pretty In Pink, Say Anything, Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, and Some Kind of Wonderful — with lines and bits of soundtrack thrown in from Fast Times At Ridgemont High, St. Elmo’s Fire, and Valley Girl.
The "plot," as it were, is really a series of vignettes that glue together a soundtrack of 80s pop hits — some of which, like "If You Leave" by Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark are indelibly linked to films they were featured in (Pretty In Pink), while others are just popular hits from the day, like David Bowie's "Young Americans," which you might have forgotten was on the Sixteen Candles soundtrack. And the vignettes are mostly line-for-line re-stagings of moments in these films, with The Breakfast Club and its six characters serving as the meta-narrative.
The diverse cast is the first way in which the team sought to mix things up with these movies, but it doesn't end there.
"One of the biggest barriers between a modern audience and these high school movies of the 1980’s is the overwhelming whiteness of the films,” says Sumié Maeda, the choreographer and associate director of BratPack, in a statement. "John Hughes was a white guy, making very white films, for a mostly white audience. But he was also telling stories about the teenage experience with honesty and heart. Casting a new BratPack that reflects our communities as they actually are not only removes that barrier between many of us and the films, but it also highlights the message of breaking down stereotypes and seeing the complexity in all of us."
The parts are played by May Ramos (Princess, all Molly Ringwald roles), Rachel Lark (Ally Sheedy's "Basketcase"/Ferris's sister/the drummer played by Mary Stuart Masterson in Some Kind of Wonderful), Michael Martinez (Jock/Jake Ryan), Zahan Meta (Judd Nelson's "Rebel"/Lloyd Dobler), Bryan Munar (Geek/Ferris/Anthony Michael Hall/Duckie in Pretty in Pink), and Scott Taylor-Cole (School Principal/Administrator).
The entire cast is made up of strong singing talents, but standouts among the vocalists are Ramos, Munar, and Martinez — with the latter pulling out several surprisingly moving renditions of otherwise cheesy hits. You can tell, in short, that these kids love this music and want to do right by it.
While Gen Xers who grew up with these tunes and these films are likely to get the biggest kick out of the show, any fans of any of these movies will likely love it too. It's an unapologetically goofy romp through the genre that also succeeds in pointing out parallels between the films — aren't the characters played by Lili Taylor in Say Anything, Mary Stuart Masterson in Some Kind of Wonderful, and Jon Cryer in Pretty In Pink all vaguely lesbian or gay while ostensibly crushing on the main characters? Why does Molly Ringwald always have such a tough time figuring out who to love? And BratPack makes some funny updates to the stories it parodies too — instead of just "making a girl" in the Weird Science vignette, a very funny Munar hooks the computer up to both a boy and a girl doll, and gets both to come alive.
Without giving too much more away, let's just say that after a pandemic year of no live theater, BratPack offers a lot to love, laugh at, and sing along with, and very little to criticize. The songs are a series of beloved earworms, the recreated scenes elicit howls, and there's never a slow moment. If I had to pick out one thing to lament, it's the fact that the excellent saxophone player was sadly under-used.
BratPack is playing through November 6 at Feinstein's at the Nikko, pending extensions. Find tickets here.