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Breckenridge’s ‘Totally Awesome’ Musical Combines Big Hair, Big Slopes And A Shot Ski?

Courtesy of Backstage Theatre
The cast of 'Totally Awesome '80s Ski Town, USA.'

As actors Charlie Schmidt and Cory Wendling would make their way from Denver to Breckenridge, they would joke about one of their favorite nostalgia films, “Hot Dog: The Movie,” and what that would look like on the stage.

Eventually though, they stopped joking.

“Three years later, it’s a full, two-hour musical,” Schmidt said.

That’s right, “Totally Awesome 80s Ski Town, USA” is real, and it's making its world premiere right where the idea originated: Breckenridge.

It was a perfect location perfect. Schmidt and Wendling had worked for more than a decade as actors with Breckenridge’s Backstage Theatre.

“They approached me with this concept of basically ‘Hot Dog: The Movie’ on stage with a little ‘Footloose’ and ‘Book of Mormon’ thrown in for good measure, and I was sold,” said Backstage artistic director Chris Willard. “How could I not be?”

When they would share their idea with others it was often met with what can best be described as “confused excitement,” Wendling said. “People wanted to know, ‘How are you going to do that? And if you do do that, I want to see it.’”

Finding inspiration was easy, Schmidt said. Their shared love for the movies, music and pop culture of the 1980s provided a wealth of ideas. The songs borrow heavily from the styles of Huey Lewis, Michael Jackson, Kenny Loggins and even Guns ‘N’ Roses. Hanging out to watch movies like “Better Off Dead,” “Footloose” and “Caddyshack” became working meetings.

Credit Courtesy of Backstage Theatre
'Totally Awesome '80s Ski Town, USA' borrows common tropes from 1980s movies, including 'Hot Dog: The Movie' and 'Footloose.'

“We would really pick out what made those movies so special,” Schmidt said.

The plot is also very ‘80s, a loosely tied together story that’s basically an excuse to play in the excesses. A drifter named Billy Tanner finds himself at the end of the road and his last chance is a struggling ski resort. After he gets a job in the ski shop, he falls for the local hottie. He then must save the town when an oil tycoon threatens to demolish it, so he can build a corporate resort.

“And it’s not a spoiler, the show’s going to end with a live, epic ski race,” Wendling said.

The show is full of that type of loving parody, with a little audience participation thrown in for good measure. Right down to the shot ski. That’s right, the front row will be partaking in the time-honored tradition of drinking a shot of alcohol in unison from shot glasses secured to a ski. Schmidt joked it’s something that has long been missing from traditional musical fare.

But on a serious note, it was important to them that “Totally Awesome ‘80s Ski Town, USA” break new ground.

Credit Courtesy of Backstage Theatre
The show ends in a 'live, epic ski race' on stage, according to one of the show's creators, Cory Wendling.

“This wasn’t something where we wanted to recreate the wheel,” Wendling said. “The ‘80s had already done that for us. And we didn’t want it to be a jukebox musical ... We wanted to be slightly more innovative.”

That said, making sure there were plenty of “Easter eggs” for audiences to discover was critical, he said, noting reference points from pop culture favorites like “Risky Business” and “16 Candles.”

“You’re really getting to go through a slideshow of your favorite moments, especially if you existed within the ‘80s,” he said.

Even those who didn’t will enjoy it because everything old is new again.

“The ‘80s were obsessed with the ‘50s,” Schmidt said. “And now 30 years later, we’re obsessed with the ‘80s.”

There also is a very similar feel between the current political and social climate and that of the 1980s.

“The world’s a little scary, but all those movies and all the entertainment of that time was created as a fun-loving escape from all that intensity,” Schmidt said. “And I think we’re right back there.”

So what’s next for Schmidt and Wendling? Who knows. They’ve joked about everything from a musical version of “Weekend at Bernie’s” to an ode to pumpkin chunkin.

“But I know that one of those jokes will probably turn into another three years of our lives,” Schmidt said.

'Totally Awesome '80s Ski Town, USA' runs through March 31, 2018 at Breckenridge Theater.

Credit Courtesy of Backstage Theatre
A scene from 'Totally Awesome '80s Ski Town, USA.'

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.
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