The 11th Hour Theatre Company is ending its 10th-anniversary season by taking theatergoers on a comedic trip back to the glossy halcyon days of the 1980s with the world premiere of “Field Hockey Hot.”
Written by playwright and Philadelphia native Michael Ogborn, the gender-bending musical satire follows a high-school girls’ field hockey team, whose star goalie is injured two weeks before the championship — and their coach will stop at nothing to win the North American title.
Ogborn said he was inspired to write the play because stories like it aren’t seen too often on the theatrical stage.
“I wanted to write a musical about a women’s field hockey team because the material was so rich for mining,” he said. “And it hasn’t been done on stage before. It offered lots of opportunities for staging, especially the actual game itself. The characters are recognizable and the situation is familiar.”
The play was an unfinished idea when Ogborn saw 11th Hour’s production of “Reefer Madness,” which inspired him to approach the company about producing the musical.
He then worked with the company to workshop it and bring it to life.
“I wrote the original plot in 1999 and did nothing with it until I saw Jennie Eisenhower in ‘Reefer Madness’ a few seasons back,” he said. “I decided I had to write a show for both 11th Hour and Jennie, and had the score for the first act and the finale when I first approached them.”
The company partnered with Joanna Settle at the University of the Arts for a workshop, where they developed plot lines and made some character changes.
“We lost Jane Fonda. We kept Elton John,” Ogborn said. “Two of the students from last year’s workshop are in the show. It was a wonderful and informative process that gave us the creative space and time to create the intricate machinery that becomes the musical.”
If Elton John circa 1980s is showing up, it is bound to be good.
But then again, the ’80s era has been experiencing an onstage renaissance as of late, with shows like “Rock of Ages” and numerous stage adaptations of classic 1980s movies like “Footloose” and “Flashdance.”
We asked Ogborn why the decade of greed and big shoulder pads is such a fertile era for the imaginations of today’s playwrights.
“It’s ancient history for some and only yesterday for many others,” he said. “The year 1986 was very good in pop culture. People still smoked in hospitals. Everything was done to excess. It was a hyper, ‘We are the hands across America’ world, a drug and plastic money-fueled vortex that spiraled into its own planet. I think that’s an attractive place to begin this particular story.”
We do miss a good drug vortex.
Photos: Chrissy K
And “Field Hockey Hot” does sound like it could be the kind of sexually charged comedy farce like, “Porky’s,” that a lot of us grew up on. But Ogborn said his influences for this piece were more nostalgic.
“The subplots all involve new romance on all fronts,” he said. “The concept was inspired by early musical comedies like ‘Leave It to Jane,’ ‘Good News’ and ‘Grease.’ The title song is sung by the coach’s son and exploits the angst and sexual tension of a teenage rock-and-roll fantasy.”
Ogborn added that some classic gender-bending and cross-dressing comedies of the 1980s were an influence as well.
“Dustin Hoffman’s Dorothy Michaels in ‘Tootsie’ is the ’80s gold standard for me,” he said. “His perfect performance asked as many questions as it answered. It’s so well-constructed and timeless.”
So we had to ask if there are gay or lesbian characters in that throwback mix of cross-dressing, teen angst and pop music?
Cool! Break out the legwarmers and the hairspray.
But while the play relies heavily on ’80s pop culture, there aren’t going to be any pop hits from that era in the musical, as Ogborn opted to use new songs.
“The music and lyrics are all original,” he said. “The vocal arrangements and orchestrations are inspired by the distinctively synthesized sounds that were being produced in the studio during that decade. The huge, dramatic/cinematic productions created from one keyboard and a drum pad comfortably allows the audience to know where and when the action takes place. There’s an inherently outrageous electricity in the music of the ’80s. It lends itself to musical theater because it’s high-drama. I also believe nostalgia plays a large part in what becomes fashionable on stage. Every generation has their music. It travels with us all through time, embedded in our bodies. It’s the music we used to dance to, and still do. ‘Field Hockey Hot’ opens the doorway into a world all its own. And we do give our guarantee that you will return safely.”
Safety is guaranteed but deep social enlightenment isn’t. Ogborn said the show is meant to be fun and doesn’t have any deep, message-laden agenda to it.
“If I could sum it up in one phrase: ‘Athletes wanna have fun,’” he said.
Ogborn added that audience members don’t necessarily have to have lived through the 1980s to appreciate “Field Hockey Hot.”
“It was an absurd decade in so many ways,” he said. “I tried to catch a little of that lightening in a bottle. Its soul is in the music and the musical is a roast and a toast to that era. [Audiences] will care about the people in the story and root for their success. Once you get the audience on your side, there is a tremendous freedom to push the envelope in the name of entertainment. [People will like it] because it’s an absurd comedy. We all need to laugh more.”
The 11th Hour Theatre Company presents “Field Hockey Hot” through March 22 at Mainstage of the Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom St. For more information or tickets, visit www.11thhourtheatrecompany.org or call 267-987-9865.