All Your Favorite '80s Movies Have Been Mashed Into One Koreatown Stage Show
John Hughes was the genius behind your favorite '80s movies, and the master of putting together a perfect soundtrack. Now his work is being celebrated in the form of a live musical performance called For The Record: The Brat Pack at Koreatown's Break Room 86.
Watching the show will jog your memory of some of Hughes' most recognizable films. They've boiled those '80s movie characters down to their most basic Breakfast Club archetypes — the brain, the athlete, the basket case, the princess, and a twist on the criminal...so you get all of them and none of them, packed into one 90-minute show.
Director Anderson Davis chose the songs and built the story, while music supervisor/arranger Jesse Vargas made it all work musically.
"Basically, I take those songs, and a combination of reimagining and also paying homage to the song — putting it in the voice of whichever character is singing it, giving it an emotional build — but also, especially for The Brat Pack, really holding onto the '80s New Wave sound," Vargas told LAist.
That means '80s synthesizers and electronic drums creating the distinctive early/mid-'80s sound.
"It's a combination of doing a little bit of musical theater treatment on the songs," Vargas said, "but also really making them feel nostalgic — like you're reliving the song in a new way, but also in a very familiar way."
The venue came equipped with its own '80s vibe — it's an '80s-themed karaoke bar with throwback arcade games, along with lockers and a cassette tape wall.
"We're literally inside a 1980s world," Vargas said. "What you get in the smaller space is a more intimate feeling."
Putting it in that space also means that the characters move through the audience (sorry, people afraid of actors getting near them).
There was a previous incarnation of the show known as Dear John Hughes four years ago, that mashed up all of Hughes' '80s high school movies. That show was picked up and played on Norwegian Cruise Lines —and added in more iconic non-Hughes '80s movies: Say Anything, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, St. Elmo's Fire.
Doing the show in L.A. means better audiences, according to Vargas.
"[On a cruise ship], you get a crowd of people who really don't know the films," Vargas said. "People aren't paying to go, it's just part of the entertainment for the week. They're meandering in, maybe they like it, maybe they don't. ... In L.A., you really get the idea that people are being nostalgic when they're in it. They're really kind of reliving their favorite movies."
Audiences are free to sing along and jump in on the background vocals.
The plot of the show (as much as there is one) involves those archetypical teens being set against an equally archetypical authority figure, drawn from characters like Assistant Principal Vernon from The Breakfast Club and Principal Rooney from Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
"We use various scenes and relationships from the different movies to basically tell a meta story of the heightened struggles and experiences that these various archetypes are having in high school," Vargas said.
The characters morph as the show progresses — you get the Geek befriending the Princess, the relationship eventually evolving into the Ducky/Andie love story from Pretty In Pink, with the geek building his own girl a la Weird Science, then becoming cool a la Ferris Bueller.
"It kind of wraps up in this way of the teenagers owning their struggles, and owning all their emotions," Vargas said, "which was the whole great thing about the John Hughes approach."
Between shows like this, and pop-ups like Saved By The Max, the '80s live on in L.A.
Vargas credits the trend to the way the '80s served as a reaction to how tough the '70s were, even though the '70s also had great music.
"Everyone tried to become something different, and music got very colorful and very theatrical," Vargas said. "You think of neon, you think of the big pop music movement. Gone were folk and rock and disco — suddenly everything was electronic, and music videos and MTV became a whole other layer."
Some songs are presented almost exactly like you remember them from the movies, like a rendition of "Twist & Shout" from Ferris Bueller's Day Off— while others get reinterpreted, like the Basket Case taking on Say Anything's "In Your Eyes."
The show also pulls some deep cuts — even Vargas didn't know all the songs ahead of time. One example? "Wouldn't It Be Good" from Pretty In Pink. One of the biggest reinterpretations comes with Pretty In Pink's "If You Leave."
"We do a cool thing — I call it the Fifty Shades of Grey arrangement, where we break it down and make it super emotional and raw, and kind of ambient, and then it slowly builds up into what winds up being prom," Vargas said. "And then we really hear 'If You Leave' the way we all know it, and it gives you all the chills."
The show cut an hour from its previous rendition so it can run a trim 90 minutes — and Vargas said that's for the best.
"This tight, fast-paced version of the show is the best it can be," Vargas said.
For The Record creates shows that draw on the jukebox musical tradition, but pull inspiration from soundtracks instead of rock n' roll classics. The organization has done larger theater performances, but they started as a small bar show, and this presentation marks a return to their roots.
The show continues at Break Room 86 through April 7 — you can find out more and get tickets here.
Correction: An earlier version of this story included an inaccurate spelling of Jesse Vargas's name. LAist regrets the error.