• By: OLM Staff

Synths and Strings, the Glory of the 80s Goes Symphonic

The NAC Orchestra is turning the clock back this week to showcase the music of 80s. Those looking for composers like Strauss, Tchaikovsky and Brahms, however, should turn their time machine ahead by a century. Put away your three-piece suits and gowns and break out your florescent day-glo, tease your hair and raise up the bangs, toss on a set of bright leggings and dust off your Wayfarers because the orchestra is taking a trip to the totally bombastic 1980s. The DeLorean is optional, McFly!

Names like Lauper, Collins, Richie and Sting don’t tend to be the first that come to mind when thinking of orchestral music. The 1980s, after all, were about musical excess. Disco had died and the new wave took over bringing with it a whole new style that defined the decade.

Whereas the 70s was a more experimental time for music in the form of prog-rock, 80s tunes really just needed a catchy hook to succeed. If you doubt me try to picture “Funky Cold Medina” breaking the Top 5 in any other decade. Sorry Tone Loc. Ten minute epics vanished as more electronic music permeated the airwaves. Even prog-rock bands like Rush and Queen jumped on board to add more synthesizers to their music.

Look was just as important than the actual musical output. Gone were bands that resembled people filling stools in any highway-side bar on a Friday night. Prince, Madonna, Poison and Michael Jackson all married style to songs and their 80s images are forever linked to their artistry no matter how much their look may have changed later. (We’re looking at you, Jacko!) Case in point, Bruce Springsteen may have recorded his best work in the 1970s but the headband, t-shirt and tight jeans symbolizes the look of the Boss like no other.

Encouraging patrons to dress up and tap into the nostalgia of it all, these unique styles of the decade are just what show organizers hope to see fill the NAC when they turn those synths into strings for All Night Long: The Music of the 80s!

“Infectious. Catchy. Sentimental,” the tagline for the show reads as the orchestra, conducted by Stuart Chafetz, goes “digging into the vinyl vaults to bring you the best synth-pop and new wave hits you remember.”

Ever wondered how Toto might sound if “Rosanna” and “Africa” were a symphony instead of a catchy pop tune? Ok, me neither but colour me exceptionally curious now that the seed has been planted.  “In the Air Tonight”, “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” and “Summer of ‘69” are other hits you can expect to get the orchestral treatment.

Joining the orchestra will be vocalist Nicole Parker, best known for her role as Elphaba in Broadway's production of Wicked. While there’s no word on whether Parker will be sporting a side ponytail and green legwarmers instead of green skin, what is, like, totally tubular is her love of the decade she grew up in.

“It felt like a giant party and everything was big and loud: the music, the hair, the colors, the cell phones,” recalls Parker.

Ottawa Life chatted with the singer before the show about her memories of the decade and how she feels the popular 80s hits translate with the orchestra gloss. 

OTTAWALIFE: When thinking of the decade what are some personal memories that come to mind?

Parker: Well it was my childhood, so I have great memories of listening to records with my older sister. I remember wearing fluorescent everything. I remember what a big deal Tom Cruise was. One of my favorite memories is playing Ms. Pacman and Frogger in restaurants and arcades. All of those sounds take me right back to the 80's and being a kid.

What was some of the music you were listening to then?

All of it! I listened to whatever my sister listened to because she was a "cool teenager." We loved Tears for Fears, Michael Jackson, The Police, Cyndi Lauper, Heart, Wham!, Madonna. I mean the music was just, like, for real, totally rad.

Like, for sure! What would you say makes music from the 80s uniquely sounding to that decade?

Well the folk era was kind of ending and all of a sudden there was more innovation with synthesizers and drum machines and so immediately those are some of the sounds that become inherently 80s. That made it unique, plus a lot of individuals like Madonna and Michael Jackson who really pushed boundaries and experimented with music.

Some might think classical music to be totally bogus when there’s so much that make it gnarly. How do you feel this music translates into being played by an orchestra?

Really well! It provides great features for specific sections in the orchestra– rhythm section and the horns for example. They really get to let loose! This music was so bombastic and epic so it's fitting that it's represented by a symphony of sound. The sound of the 80's was larger than life, so the more instruments the better! Not to mention the movie sections such as the theme from E.T. are a perfect fit for the orchestra due to John Williams' prolific contribution to music during that decade.

What has gone into your work with this production?

I had some input when it came to the solos that I sing, and also wrote some of the material for the transitions in between sections. I also staged some comedic moments involving some of our favorite moments from 80's movies, but those are a surprise so you have to come see the show!

How would you describe transitioning from your role in Wicked to a production like this?

Wicked is a fairly epic and pop/rock score to sing so the transition was pretty easy! Belting out a tune from Heart feels very similar to singing “Defying Gravity”, except this time I don't have to be green!

What songs are you most looking forward to performing and why?

I absolutely love “True Colors”, it was always one of my favorite songs growing up. I love Cyndi Lauper, and this is a beautiful arrangement of the song, plus I love the message so I am very honored to get to sing it. And of course, as I mentioned, I always look forward to rocking out "Alone" by Heart.