Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Debbie Harry, Joan Jett … these are artists who probably first come to mind when we think of ladies of the eighties. But another rockin' diva (who still gets tons of radio play) is, in many ways, the ultimate model for today's popstar spitfires, particularly Miss Gaga on her latest: Pat Benatar! Benatar walked the line between rawk powerhouse and mainstream pop songstress maybe more than any of the above, her music showcasing both her tremendous range and songs packed with luscious licks, epic builds, and infectious hooks.
Benatar's place in pop culture is perhaps best represented in the film Fast Times At Ridgemont High with Jennifer Jason Leigh's character noting all the girls in school dressing in the singer's signature spandex. The new musical adaptation of another cult classic, “The Legend of Billie Jean” at the Cavern Club in Silver Lake, may not have the Benatar look, (there is a similar haircut) but you will hear nearly all of Pat's hits. In fact, the basement show called Invincible is a Benatar bonanza!
The original film version of Billie Jean — about a teenage fugitive who becomes a martyr of sorts — only features PB's title track, but the writers and directors of this musical staging (best known for the Cavern's popular Chico's Angels series) have infused all of the faves –Rock of Ages style- into the storyline here: “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “Fire and Ice,” “Heartbreaker,” “We Belong, ” and “Love Is A Battlefield” (complete with feisty choreography seen in the infamous video courtesy of John Cantwell).
Some of these songs are tough to sing, and the cast of Invincible (standouts include Sam Pancake and Jennifer Dohn Watkins), though all adept at carrying a tune and playing audacious characters, aren't always up to the notes. This is the Cavern Club (known for its witty, mostly gay, always outrageous theatre), so no one really expects them to be. Still, the show's star Willam Belli (whose credits include Nip/Tuck and more recently HBO's Cinema Verite) more than holds his own as Billie Jean, both in the role (with tongue-in-rouged-cheek throughout) and as a singer. He/she is quite mesmerizing, but we knew that ever since his viral hit, The Vagina Song.
Located underneath Casita Del Campo Mexican restaurant, Cavern is an enduring locale for rollicking theatre and it always has an element of audience participation (the killer margaritas upstairs loosen the lips and the laughs). Billie Jean is perfect here, but it's got enough going for it that we could see it in a bigger venue too. The movie's motto, may have been “Fair is fair,” but at this androgynous '80s-themed spectacle, fair is fierce!
The Legend of Billie Jean runs this weekend (June 10 & 11) and next (June 17-18). One of our favorite funny ladies, Selene Luna, is there tonight. CC Info at www.cavernclubtheater.com and Invincible here.
Benatar fans will be happy to know that she's still rockin for real. Her website says she'll be at Pacific Amphitheatre in OC and then Venura for the County fair, both this August.
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