Ah, the age-old question: are the soulful break-up anthems of ‘80s hair bands so bad they’re good ... or just plain bad?
"I always use the word awesome – because it makes me feel younger, but also because some of the music is awesomely bad," said Mike Todaro. "Some of the lyrics are awful. But it holds a special place in a certain age group’s heart that we are able to look past some of the bad stuff and just see the good stuff."
Todaro should know. As the writer and producer of "Power Balladz," a sing-along tribute to the best rock music of the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, Todaro has spent a decade reintroducing American audiences to the most awesome anthems ever sung. The show premiered in 2002 and has since toured all over the country, including a stint in off-Broadway theater. "Power Balladz" comes to the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St., on Friday, Sept. 20 and Saturday, Sept. 21.
"We set out to create a giant arena rock show shoved into a theater space," Todaro told OnMilwaukee.com. "We wanted to capture all of the glory and awesomeness of ‘80s rock and give it to people a way that they haven't seen it before. There's no guarantee in life, but we can guarantee that when people see this that they have a great time."
So what exactly is the definition of a power ballad?
"A power ballad has to start acoustically and build," said Todaro. "That’s one thing. Ideologically, a power ballad cannot take away from the awesomeness of the band. People often ask us why we don't have KISS' song ‘Death’ in there, and it’s because that song was so bad we don't want to take away from how awesome the band was. And in order to have a power ballad, you have to have power. Which is why there’s not a lot of Chicago in there."
Bon Jovi’s "Wanted, Dead or Alive" did make it in, along with Poison’s "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," Styx’s "Come Sail Away," "Faithfully" by Journey, "Freebird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Heart’s "Alone" and many more. Basically, anything you could bang your head to or wail into a microphone while the audience holds up their iPhones – or lighters, if they really want to be retro.
Selecting the ballads to include, said Todaro, was "a very painstaking process."
"Most of the songs at the very base are connected to painful moments in my teenage years. I do remember vividly standing off to the side of the dance floor while all of the popular kids danced to ‘Faithfully’ by journey, which is why it's in the show. So those kind of moments, you know?"
But the teenage years were long ago, and surely, we’ve all moved on enough to dull the pain. Right?
"I think we are far enough away from the pain of our teenage years to look back on it fondly. I think that is a lot of what (the interest in ‘80s music) is," said Todaro. "I think music is, for a lot of people, a very important central recall thing. I can certainly remember where I was when a certain song was playing, and I think people really enjoy that. We’re very conscious and careful to let people live inside their own memory of music as well."
And it’s not that music isn’t as good today as it was during, say, the Reagan administration. It’s just that it’s ... less awesome.
"I think its more accessible. In that generation, I choices were limited as to what you could get on CD or album," said Todaro. "I think the availability of music ... there's not a lot of filters anymore. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. Because of the place it holds in my heart, this music is way better. But I'm sure if you ask my 8-year-old daughter in 10 years, she would say the music now is. I don't like to judge people’s preference. And it’s all in the ear and eye of the beholder, but for my money, this music is the best music ever written."
For more information on the Milwaukee run of "Power Balladz," visit marcuscenter.org.
Colleen Jurkiewicz is a Milwaukee native with a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and she loves having a job where she learns something new about the Cream City every day. Her previous incarnations have included stints as a waitress, a barista, a writing tutor, a medical transcriptionist, a freelance journalist, and now this lovely gig at the best online magazine in Milwaukee.