By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Jun 30, 2023 at 12:16 AM Photography: Ty Helbach

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The rain and thunder delayed Debbie Gibson from taking the Miller Lite Oasis stage this afternoon at 4:15, but by 4:35 she was steeped in her element: singing, dancing and shaking her love.

“How many of you lost track of me for a few decades until today?” she asked the crowd, which by mid-show filled the bleachers and was a range of ages and walks of life.

At 52, Gibson – who is on the second leg of her “The Body Remembers” tour – has maintained a version of her 80s appearance with long, frosted blond hair, a toned, exposed stomach and a cropped green satin jacket embossed with “high maintenance” across the chest that she shed after two songs to reveal a halter top dangling with silver stars.

But it was her band that captured the 80s look even more acutely than Gibson. Her guitarist / bassist had a permed-and-hairsprayed mane – she could have been in a Def Lepperd video back in the day – and her male dancers were decked out in sequined rainbow jackets circa Pride Fest 1988.

But Gibson is more than a nostalgia act. She made this clear from the beginning of her one-hour set. “I love doing the OG hits, but with an original spin,” she said.

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And indeed she did, cranking out all the old favorites like “Only In My Dreams,” "Shake Your Love,” “Out of the Blue” and more.

But she also performed numerous songs that she wrote and recorded long after her stint as a 16-year-old early MTV darling. She drew songs from her lesser-known adult contemporary music career like “Legendary” and “Strings.”

Gibson also has multiple stage credits under her belt, including a Broadway version of “Les Miserables” and a London West End production of “Grease" that broke box office records. Her love for musical theater shined through during her Summerfest set with a medley of six ABBA songs, including a spirited snippet of “Mamma Mia.”

Her choreography was tight if not a bit corny – or maybe that was on purpose. Her voice was strong and her attitude was confident and cheerful, with moments of wise clarity that only a middle-aged woman is capable of.

“I threw my Type A personality out the window a long time ago,” she said.

It’s tempting to lump Gibson into the one-hit wonder women of the late 80s, but she wasn't that. At 16, she was the youngest artist to write, produce and perform a Billboard number-one single with "Foolish Beat” that landed her in the Guinness World Records. She holds the title to this day.

Gibson released a second album, "Electric Youth," in 1989. The first single, "Lost in Your Eyes," was number one on the Hot 100 for three weeks and nabbed her another accolade – this time as the youngest female to have both an album and single simultaneously at number one. Thus, she won the 1989 ASCAP Songwriter of the Year Award along with Bruce Springsteen.

In 1987, when Gibson seemingly came onto the pop/MTV scene out of the blue (ahem), I was too steeped in the “alternative” sounds of The Cure, Depeche Mode and the like to get into her. Her pork-pie hat, vest over a T-shirt, rolled and pinned jeans, and double Swatch watches worn on one wrist didn’t jive with my Gothy punk sensibilities.

Tonight, Gibson's down-to-earth-ness, commitment to performing songs that span her entire career and casual-but-firm control of the entire stage revealed a Debbie Gibson that I could get behind. A woman of grit, determination and resilience. And that's pretty damn punk.

“I’m in awe we are all still here together,” she said. “And I am so happy to be here. For real.”

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Set list:

“One Step Closer”
“Electric Youth/Feel It Still”
“Foolish Beat”
“Shake Your Love”
“Lost In Your Eyes”
“Dance 4U”
“Love Don’t Care”
“ABBA medley"
“Only in My Dreams"

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.