Cambrian: Arts & Events

Blast back to the past in ’80s-themed Coast Union musical

Meg Stern and Nate Ehlers rehearse for “Back to the ’80s” on Wednesday evening, March 22, at Coast Union. Stern plays Tiffany, and Ehlers plays Corey in the musical.
Meg Stern and Nate Ehlers rehearse for “Back to the ’80s” on Wednesday evening, March 22, at Coast Union. Stern plays Tiffany, and Ehlers plays Corey in the musical. sprovost@thetribunenews.com

This year’s spring musical at Coast Union has a little something for the parents: a trip back in time (no DeLorean needed) to an era when compact discs were the wave of the future and Michael Jackson ruled the airwaves.

This year’s production, “Back to the ’80s,” is to that generation what “Grease” was to the era of drive-ins, greasers and bobby soxers. Six performances are planned on consecutive weekends starting Friday, March 31.

Set at William Ocean High School circa 1985, the play features songs like Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star,” Kenny Loggins’ title track from “Footloose” and “Mickey” by Toni Basil.

“What I like about the show is all the different songs because these are songs that all the people knew and it will be easy for parents in the audience to say, ‘Hey, I know this song,’” said senior Nate Ehlers, 17, one of the leads in the play.

Many of the characters have names that pay homage to actors and pop stars from the ’80s. For example, actor Corey Feldman (“Gremlins,” “The Goonies”) has his name split between Ehlers’ character, Corey Palmer, and big man on campus Michael Feldman. The two are rivals for the affections of Tiffany Houston, who owes her name to a pair of pop stars and is played by junior Meg Stern.

“She’s really sweet toward other people; she’s really accepting of other people who aren’t maybe as high (on the social ladder) as she is,” said Stern, 16. “She’s not mean, but she knows that she’s popular.”

What I like about the show is all the different songs because these are songs that all the people knew and it will be easy for parents in the audience to say, ‘Hey, I know this song.’

Nate Ehlers, who portrays Corey Palmer in “Back to the ’80s”

Corey has a crush on Tiffany, who in turn has a crush on Michael, played by Riley Kennedy, a 16-year-old junior who snagged a prime role in his first acting turn at Coast Union.

“I’m obviously a little nervous,” Kennedy admitted, “but I think the staff has prepared me real well, so I’m pretty excited about it.”

Kennedy said he likes the musical because he’s “a big fan of the ’80s, and the way some of the scenes go, there’s a little comedy with it, too, and I enjoy acting that out.”

Kennedy, who’s a three-sport athlete and a member of the school’s mock trial team, said he took the part because he likes to “branch out and try new things.”

Acting is also new to Jacob Fillmer, a 17-year-old senior who plays school geek Feargal Bobby McFerrin Jr. His best friend (according to the script) is a certain computer whiz named Bill Gates, and his vision for the future is one in which a computer can fit in the palm of your hand.

“It’s kind of me in real life,” Fillmer said of the character. Feargal is “the one that students usually pick on. I’m like Sheldon (from “The Big Bang Theory”). That’s actually the best comparison I’ve ever come up with.”

“It’s my first production, so I’m having a lot of fun meeting people I’ve never met before,” he added.

I’m obviously a little nervous, but I think the staff has prepared me real well, so I’m pretty excited about it.

Riley Kennedy, who plays Michael Feldman in “Back to the ’80s”

Feargal, Corey and Michael are the three candidates for school president in the two-act play by Neil Gooding. The original musical adaptation was made by Scott Copeman, and it was reorchestrated and arranged by Brett Foster in 2003.

Coast Union’s production is directed by Randy Schwalbe and features students from both the high school and Santa Lucia Middle School. Many of the songs feature choreography by Anna Harrington.

Ethan Walters plays grown-up Corey, who acts as a narrator looking back on the events of 15 years earlier. Several members of Coast Union’s varsity basketball team, which made it to the CIF semifinals this year, are also in the cast: Kennedy, Jez Lawson (Billy), Sam MacKinnon (Huey), Nick Roper (Lionel) and Jack MacKinnon (Simon).

Lindy Ortiz, an 18-year-old senior who has been in seven productions at Coast Union, plays Tiffany’s outspoken friend Cyndi Gibson — names borrowed from Lauper and Debbie Gibson.

“My favorite part of the show is the dancing,” Ortiz said. “The songs are fun to dance to. It’s a colorful show.

“The most challenging part of the show,” she added, “is the amount of new people. But it also is a good thing because it opens more people up to the idea of theater. It’s a learning experience.”

Michelle Campos and Zach Dolan play Corey’s best friends, Kirk and Alf. Darien Jewel and Margaret Hall play two teachers, Steven Cocker and Sheena Brannigan.

Other students involved in the production are Annika Marthaler, Maryn Steeb, Tori Ehlers, Ellie Kennedy, Hayley Zinn, Octavia Dolan, Olivia Hargear, Isabella Hargear, Karis Lawson, Holly McHaffie, Sophie MacKinnon, Jonathan Jewel, Isabella Edwards and Xiomara Villalvazo.

“Back to the ’80s”

Performances will be in the Coast Union gymnasium at 7 p.m. Friday, March 31 and April 7 and at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 1, 2, 8, 9. Reserved seating is $20, with general admission tickets priced at $10 and student tickets $5. Tickets are available at Among Friends, 2254 Main St. in Cambria’s East Village or at the door. Or order by phone at 805-927-7156.

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