ARTS Parker indulges her ’80s obsession with the VSO
icole Parker comes by her love of the music of the 1980s honestly; born in 1978, the multifaceted performer lived her formative years in the decade that brought us the Moonwalk, the compact disc, and Reaganomics.
“I was a kid of the ’80s, but I also had an older sister, so whatever she was listening to as a teenager, I was definitely into,” Parker says when the Straight reaches her by phone in Washington state, where she’s preparing to sing as part of an ’80sthemed program with the Seattle Symphony. “She had her OMD and Tears for Fears posters up on the wall, and Wham! and George Michael. We tried to dance like Michael Jackson, and I tried to sing like Cyndi Lauper and Madonna.”
That makes Parker a natural choice for the show in which she currently appears, which comes to town this week in a version that also features singer Aaron Finley and members of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, all under the baton of conductor Stuart Chafetz.
Songs such as “Careless Whisper”, “The Final Countdown”, “Addicted to Love”, and “In the Air Tonight” might seem out of place in a symphony hall, but Parker points out that the arrangements (most of them by composer Sam Shoup) require the skill and precision of an orchestra.
“A lot of the music certainly appeals to the pop sensibility, but at the same time I’d say what’s cool about a lot of these arrangements is that I don’t think they could be played by people without classical training,” she says. “There’s a version of ‘Smooth Criminal’ that features a violin solo that to me is as complicated-sounding as any classical piece, and it’s a pretty extraordinary moment and a feature for the first violin, so I’m really excited for everyone to see that. It’s one of those great moments when you fuse a pop tune with classical sensibilities, and I think it’s a nice example of that fusion.”
Parker ought to be up to the challenge of bridging those musical worlds. Her CV includes the role of Pamina in The Magic Flute as well as a stint playing Elphaba in both the Broadway and touring productions of Wicked. She is likely best-known, though, as a cast member of MADTV, where for six seasons she did impressions of everyone from Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin to Jessica Simpson and Britney Spears.
She has plenty of experience with costume changes, then, which serves her well in the current show. Everyone on-stage is decked out in ’80s attire, and audience members are encouraged to come dressed in their own era-appropriate outfits, whether they be head-to-toe acid-wash-denim ensembles or Ghostbusters jumpsuits.
“We really stepped up our game this year,” Parker says. “We’re really coming in hard with the ’80s outfits, so the more people dress up, the less ridiculous we’ll look.”
A YEAR AFTER his first testosterone injection, Kit Redstone faces another milestone in his transition: his first visit to a men’s locker room. Kit wonders, “Does the way we look create our personality or does our personality create the way we look?”
is the autobiographical tale of Kit’s passing through this sweaty gauntlet and, more broadly, into manhood. Redstone describes it explicitly as “a journey into my head”.
The show has a bit of a manic cabaret vibe, as we jounce from childhood memories to fantasies to the mundane reality of the locker room. There are some dance numbers, choreographed sequences, and William Donaldson as the Diva has serious pipes. He belts out tunes by Chaka Khan and the Weather Girls. I, for one, have never before heard Kelis’s “My Milkshake” chanted as a kind of trans incantation.
At the centre of it all is Redstone, who plays himself. He’s our guide and cipher as he investigates “what on Earth it means to be a man”. He covers a number of highly relevant cultural touchpoints—sports fellowship, pickup artistry, sexual harassment—but also confronts the terrifying normalities of life in the locker room. Redstone’s is a very baring and, therefore, brave performance.
Two other performers, Matthew Wells and Julian Spooner, round out the cast. Spooner has a particularly good turn in a monologue where he harangues us about 10,000 years of toxic masculinity, all “because of the coincidence of a chromosome”.
Alberta Jones’s set puts masculinity under the microscope. The stage is framed by benches and banks of lockers, so that the playing space is quite tight. However, Jones has added a huge sloped mirror on the upstage side of the space, enabling us to witness small moments in reflection.
There were also some subtleties in Jones’s costume designs. When Redstone enters, he is wearing Everlast shorts, classically a boxing brand. This feels quite appropriate, as Redstone has entered a kind of boxing ring.
has a ramshackle looseness to it, which I appreciated. However, I did occasionally wish that Spooner, who directed the show, had paid more attention to the seams between the scenes. Those transitional moments felt clunky at times.
This is the third play I’ve reviewed in the last two years set in a male bathroom or locker room. As theatre gets more diverse and inclusive, are we also taking a second look at these smelly chambers of masculinity?
If you don’t mind spending 65 minutes in this men’s room, you’ll find Testosterone a charming, heartfelt show that looks beyond the linoleum.