In the year of a presidential election, with a straining global economy, when many struggle to find work, our society seems to have called for an escape into rock and roll. Broadway answered with a stream of jukebox musicals. Hollywood answered with musical movies like Across the Universe featuring music of the Beatles, a remount of Footloose, and, most recently, Rock of Ages, compiling the music of our favorite big-hair bands from the 80s. Ever ready to thrill their fans, the North Carolina Symphony answered with a “Totally 80s” program, complete with a costume contest, on June 23 at Koka Booth outdoor amphitheatre in Cary, NC.

Associate Conductor Sarah Hicks stepped on stage in-head-to-toe 80s fashion.  With her neon sleeves adding a finishing touch, you couldn’t miss her downbeat if you wanted to. The opening selection, an instrumental arrangement of Guns ‘N Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle,” shattered any illusion that classical musicians couldn’t rock out with the best of them. Kendra Ryan introduced the first of the sing-a-long hits with Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” arranged by the maestra, and the audience was ready to rock. Emily Rose Skinner and Matt Riehle absolutely brought the house down with Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” pumping the crowd up with enough 80s angst to last the rest of the evening. While the show could have ended there and sufficiently rocked out the house, thank goodness it didn’t. Jeff Engholm’s vocal stylings for “Livin’ on a Prayer” closed out Act I with a power punch that had members of the audience on their feet singing and shouting, ready for Act II.

After the last light of the sun disappeared with the rhythmic sway of Sting’s “Every Breath You Take” and Cynid Lauper’s “Time after Time,” the audience delighted in reminiscing on their favorite TV shows from the 80s. The North Carolina Symphony took the spotlight for an instrumental medley of hit 80s television theme songs from hits like A-Team, Dallas, and Cheers, and the show ended with the crowd dancing along, or at least doing the one move most of us really know, to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” With an encore performance of Van Halen’s “Jump,” the crowd rocked and rolled out of the amphitheatre singing favorites from the night’s plentiful list of the 80s greatest hits.

The North Carolina Symphony continues the fun-filled Summerfest season June 30 with Romeo and Juliet, including performances of scenes from Shakespeare’s greatest romances with featured actors and actresses. The North Carolina Symphony continues to find new ways to bring art and music to the community. For details of remaining performances, see our calendar.

Editor’s Note: Based on several recent schedule changes it would appear that this concert marked Sarah Hicks’ podium farewell as Associate Conductor. She will return to NC next season for several guest appearances.