Singer Brie Cassil

Decades: Back to the 80s

Bob Bernhardt, conductor
Paul Loren, Brie Cassil, and Colin Smith, guest vocals

A review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

You can say that I was like totally psyched for the theme of this concert, because spending my most formative years as an 80s child, the sights, sounds, and songs are forever embedded in my soul. By and large, the evening was a chill and tubular ride down memory lane.

Covering some of the best ballads, slow jams, disco, and bubblegum pop that the 80s had to offer, the Louisville Orchestra Pops, under the direction of the rad Bob Bernhardt had help from three talented vocalists who were probably only in diapers in the 80s, but had a grasp of the feel of the decade and the music that it had imparted.

Some of the pieces chosen for the evening were by well-known bands such as Hall and Oates, Huey Lewis and the News and Tears for Fears. We also were treated to music from those whose careers have spanned up into our present time: Heart, Billy Joel, and Elton John. Not excluded for their indelible mark in music was that of the Material Girl Madonna, Annie Lennox, Cyndi Lauper, and the late Whitney Houston. And you can’t have an 80s concert without a nod to the movie soundtrack, which really took off during that decade. This evening we were given two biggies: “Up Where We Belong” from An Officer and a Gentleman and “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing, complete with singers Colin and Brie attempting “The Lift”. Yeah, it didn’t happen.

Of course, the decade had its artists with multiple hits, but some perhaps only managed to make it to the Billboard Top 40 only once or twice (or maybe three or four), but those songs are still played to this day, such as Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting”, soulfully performed by Paul Loren and given a 21st century anthem-song feel when the audience raised their respective phones with flashlights on, to mimic what was used back in the day – a lighter. Mr. Loren’s voice also suited starting Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love”, while the others blended in for some nice harmonies and inflections. Another enjoyable one hit wonder of the evening was Jackie DeShannon’s “Bette Davis Eyes” admirably performed by Brie Cassil this evening. But here’s a little trivia for your next 80s Trivial Pursuit game: DeShannon had actually written “Bette Davis Eyes” in the 1970’s, but the re-write and talent of Kim Carnes got him that top 10 hit and in many people’s playlists to this day.

Jeff Tyzik’s arrangements for orchestra and rhythm sections were pretty close to the original compositions, with obvious changes, but to my thinking, there were some missed opportunities. Such opportunities would be in Annie Lennox’s “Sweet Dreams” and Heart’s “These Dreams”. These pieces had already lent themselves to an orchestral feel, with respect to the guitar talents of Dave Stewart and Ann Wilson. The aforementioned “Right Here Waiting” is another one. Of course, there are those pieces in the repertoire that you are expecting an awesome guitar and/or drum solo, like in “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” or Phil Collins’ “Sussudio”. 

Another thing about arrangements is that they aren’t always going to be in the same key as the original, such was the case with a few of the pieces for the evening, as was shortening the lyrics and incidental music. Made sense to move the concert along.

Colin Smith’s vocalizations reminded me of the boy next door/kid-with-a-good-voice-makes-good kind of delivery, while Paul Loren leaned into the R&B with style and panache. Brie Cassil certainly channeled many of the female artists’ styles that she was performing and she was willing and able to embellish when the time was right. The men did that on occasion, too. A little improvisation goes a long way.

Looking around the theater I observed patches of Day-Glo pastel wardrobe and hair that had been soaked in Aqua Net and bedecked with rainbow scrunchies. 

You could have gagged me with a spoon when Paul Loren was talking about many of the songs of the 80s got as large as they did before the dawning of virality and then he mentioned one such song that could have been a local viral sensation of the 1980s, “Look What We Can Do, Louisville”. Remember it? Here’s a snippet to jog your memory:

Sun Coming Up

Going to Be a Bright New Day

Come along with me

Together we are on our way

Heading for a future, even better than our past

Gonna make it happen, gonna make it last

Look what we can do Louisville, Louisville

Together me and you, Louisville

The Arts, the Parks, Derby and Zoo, Heritage Weekends and Festivals, too

Urban, Suburban the Old and New

Its Home to Me, It’s Home to You 

Thanks so much, Louisville Orchestra Pops for the Hella fun ride.

Bravi Tutti!!

Decades: Back to the 80s

March 17, 2023

Louisville Orchestra
Kentucky Center
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202

Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.