It was fate, it seems, that the musical Spandex would come to Minneapolis. After all, the legendary Doug Melroe lives and works here, and...what’s that? You’ve never heard of Doug Melroe? Well, surely you remember the 1988 Crystal Light National Aerobic Championship, hosted by Alan Thicke.
The Minnsky Theater
Melroe, a two-time Crystal Light regional champion, now teaches at the Firm, and has a cameo in the Minnsky Theatre production of Spandex, which premiered Off-Broadway in 2013. According to the program, director/choreographer Liz Piccoli and co-writer Daniel F. Levin “nearly died” when they came to Minneapolis last year to take a class with Melroe.
Spandex is all about the drama surrounding the run-up to the televised 1988 competition, as two fictional teams prepare for the most flamboyant grudge match since the “Beat It” video. This fun but uneven show is the first full-fledged musical to be staged by Minnsky Theatre, which occupies the former Nimbus Theatre space on Central Avenue Northeast and specializes in cabarets.
The star of Spandex is Lorraine, played by Sims Lamason. An Atlanta-based performer who also played Lorraine in New York, Lamason brings big hair and even bigger pipes to the role of a thirty-something aerobics instructor who’s still haunted by the landing she failed to stick when competing as a gymnast at the 1968 Olympics. Trip (Tony Larkin), her boss/boyfriend and a marginally more successful fellow Olympian, sees the Crystal Light championship as a potential return to glory.
Enter Linda (Yvonne Freese), a mom who shows up at Trip’s studio hoping that his “Bronze Bodies” workout can add zest to her marriage. Linda’s husband Bob is just a boring federal bureaucrat being drawn into some shady arms deals, but burly, mustachioed actor Zach Myers all but steals the show in scenes such as a fantasy ballet where Linda dreams of the passion the two could share.
When Lorraine finds Trip getting physical with a curvaceous student (Samantha Lee Stoltzfus), the former couple become competitors. Fortunately for Lorraine, her rebound romance involves Dov (Spencer Corona): a fellow fitness guru who’s been struggling to sell a militaristic workout routine inspired by his stint in the Israeli army. As the championship looms, Lorraine, Dov, and Linda gear up to face off against the no-good Trip.
While Spandex looks to have been produced on a shoestring budget that couldn’t even accommodate period-appropriate sneakers, the Minnsky corps put a lot of heart into this frothy flashback. Transitions are bumpy, line readings are stagy, and the wall panels wobble, but when it comes to the full-throated choruses, the big cast throw themselves into it like they’re at the Orpheum.
Levin wrote the music with Julian Blackmore, and the book and lyrics with Annie Grunow. While the show has one (or two or three) too many ballads, for the most part the songs amusingly lampoon ‘80s tropes, with shameless lyrics like “My body is my temple, and that is for sure/ My guns are where I keep this temple secure.”
The inexhaustible show runs for about two hours and 45 minutes with an intermission, encompassing everything from a Disney World satire to fake TV ads that have cast members aping Reagan-era celebrities like Chuck Norris and Clara “Where’s the beef?” Peller. Child actor Catherine Ashmore Bradley seems to burn as many calories as the rest of the cast combined, sprinting across the stage to play roles ranging from the young Lorraine to an off-brand Tinkerbell.
Spandex is a show you can enjoy if you’re willing to get into the production’s community-minded spirit and enjoy the goofy gags. You’ll have to bring your own legwarmers, but the show will take care of warming your heart.