A look back at roller rink culture
Two years and two pants sizes ago (for this reporter), the dance-musical “Rink Life” was scheduled to premiere at the Kahilu Theatre in late March 2020. Two weeks before, I did a phone interview with the show’s producer and artistic director of Lucky Plush Productions, Julia Rhoads. We were both naively optimistic that the negative news wasn’t that serious, but the growing concerns over COVID quickly shut everything down, and the event was canceled.
Last Saturday, the pandemic-delayed performance of “Rink Life” finally took place, and a few hours before showtime, Rhoads and I resumed our interview in the theatre’s lobby, this time face to face, on the day the State lifted its mask mandate.
“The inspiration for the show loosely came from a pre-pandemic time when not everybody was mediating their experience through a cellphone,” recalled Rhoads. “So, we came up with this idea of a roller rink because, in the seventies and eighties, that’s where you’d have birthday parties or first dates. It was a space where people would fall together, fail together, laugh together, and celebrate and do dorky dances.”
Set in the late 1970s or early eighties, “Rink Life” tells the tale of six friends, possibly in their early twenties, who connect at a popular roller rink. As a glittery disco ball rotates above their heads, the cast members glide effortlessly around the stage, sans skates, singing a cappela snippets of popular tunes while discussing topics like marriage and friendship. It’s what young people did back then before Zoom calls and Spotify.
Through a series of vignettes, the show also weaves in a touch of comedy, like when two dancers aren’t sure if the line in Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” is either “touched for the very first time” or “for the thirty-first time.”
“I think humor often comes in because of this invitation for the ensemble members to just be themselves,” said Rhoads. “And a lot of times, the humor isn’t found in traditional dance. Instead, we find the humor in unexpected ways, whether it’s a misunderstanding or something that happens in a real relationship where the timing might be off. We also play with modes of comedy, like sketch comedy, and we do a lot of improvisation that gets at different types of humorous situations.”
Long forgotten musical earworms appear in the show like “Hey Jude” and Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” At times, the performers harmonize two different songs with similar melodies, like when cast member Michel Rodriguez Cintra sings the traditional lullaby “Arrorro mi Niño,” it’s countered with “A Whole New World” from Disney’s “Aladdin.”
Dressed in brightly colored shirts and pants (possibly polyester?), the skaters support each other emotionally and in coordinated acrobatics. One segment featured five cast members lying flat on the floor, arms raised, delicately balancing, and spinning a fellow skater’s body in slow-motion while flashing lights augment the dramatic moment. Well worth the price of admission alone.
About three-quarters of the way into the show, there’s a time shift to current times with a group commitment session. Cast member Marc Macaranas announced he would eat better and get rid of his TV that he used for livestreaming for the past two years.
In the final scene, cast members perform a reverse skate while singing “Goodbye to You” and “Time After Time” and executing ballet-like moves. Then, single file, they “skate” off stage as the stage lights dim.
Notes & Links
Listen to the 2022 interview with Julia Rhoads
Cast members: Kara BrodyMichel Rodriguez CintraMarc MacaranasMelinda Jean MyersJacinda RatcliffeMeghann Rose Wilkinson
Music samples: Bee Gees, “Stayin’ Alive,” Jim Steinman, “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” Van McCoy and the Soul City Symphony, “The Hustle,” James Brown, “Make it Funky,” traditional lullaby, “Arrorro mi Niño,” Alan Menken and Tim Rice, “A Whole New World,” Lennon-McCartney, “Across the Universe,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, “Let it Go,” Cat Stevens, “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” Paul McCartney, “Hey Jude,” Richard Sherman and Robert Sherman, “Stay Awake,” Zack Smith (Scandal/Patty Smyth), “Goodbye to You,” Keith Forse and Steve Schiff (Simple Minds), “Don’t you Forget about Me,” Cyndi Lauper and Rob Hyman, “Time after Time,” Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman, “Time to Say Goodbye.”
Show date: 27/March/2021
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Photos: Steve Roby
Steve Roby is the editor of Big Island Music Magazine.