Live Music: “ModRock” at the El Portal Theater

By Mike Finkelstein

ModRock had its official opening Sunday evening at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood.   It’s an entertaining, feel good, romp through some very important times in popular culture. In the mid ‘60s London was ground zero for popular culture.   Long lasting fashion trends like the miniskirt came out of the London scene.   And, some amazingly powerful, enduring, and influential music also came out of London during those days.  ModRock uses a wide spectrum of this music to advance its story..Thanks to a very energetic cast, tastefully chosen costumes and props, and a great set of tunes of the times, the show is winsome.   It would have been entertaining to hear the original recordings, but it was better that the vocals were sung live in front of a band behind the backdrop for most of the evening. The songs remained familiar, but between the band’s nuances and the performer’s harmonies they morphed into something more unique.  A nice touch, that.   All of the actors wore subtle wireless headsets and the sound in the El Portal was so good that one could finally make out a blurred phrase or two in the original songs.

Melinda Porto and Steven Good
Melinda Porto and Steven Good

Set in London circa 1965, the plot of ModRock concerns a summer romance between a middle-class Mod girl named Kate (Melinda Porto), and a working class Rocker Boy, Adam (Steven Good). As his teacher, she helped him get his school certificate earlier.  The two young lovers are swooning away with each other, but the idea will never fly with their circles of friends.   Kate’s brother Simon (Scott Kruse) is the brooding so-serious-about-being-a-Mod Mod and will have none of it.  Tensions mount as all of the characters balance growing up and maturing with being true to their styles and cliques.   The plot is a familiar one.  We’ve seen it in Romeo and Juliet, Grease, West Side Story and many others.  It’s a classic tale, but it tugs at some of our most basic emotions concerning the power of love to transcend less important but still compelling issues like class or fashion.

As we watched this tale of Mods and Rockers on Sunday, we really couldn’t help but wonder why these two groups would resent each other so deeply. They were more alike than different. They did the same things in a different style.  Neither group had much money, and both were usually in the process of saving up to buy a new motorcycle, a new scooter, or perhaps even swiping clothes.   Wisely, the show concentrates on their music, clothes, and two-wheeled transport.

The Mods were outfitted with a dazzling array of colorful leggings, miniskirts, slickers, go-go boots, Cuban heeled boots, winkle-pickers, drainpipe pants, parkas, and turtlenecks.  The Rockers, on the other hand, were wearing high-cuffed blue jeans, white tee shirts, and everything else in black – biker jackets and biker boots for the guys and black leggings, leather jackets, teddies, lingerie for the girls.  And of course, in this new millennium, they all smoked e-cigarettes on stage.

The “ModRock” cast

ModRock had two of the more choice iconic props you could hope for in place, a big old Triumph motorcycle for Rocker Adam and a multi-mirrored Vespa scooter for Simon the Mod…both iconic machines in their own right.   The bikes were set on casters but were clearly a grunt to push around, much like a broken down cycle would be.

The production flourishes with the cast telling its tale as they act the songs out.  The Hollies’ “Bus Stop” established how Adam and Kate actually met each other and the Kinks’ “Dedicated Follower of Fashion,” was just the right song to expand on the Mods’ obsessive efforts to keep up with fashion that changed by the hour.   By choosing to use songs like Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want to Be With You,” Chad and Jeremy’s “Summer Song,” The Fortunes’ “You’ve Got Your Troubles,” and Burt Bacharach’s “(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me,” ModRock succeeds in showcasing the angst in longing and broken love. These softer, yet poignant songs were up there in the charts and all over the radio right next to the Beatles, the Who and the Kinks in their time.  So, it was an important detail to include them.

The plot of ModRock hinges on a Mod/Rocker rumble and in the aftermath everybody gains some perspective and the maturity to move on in their own directions.  Some Mods become Rockers, and some Rockers become Mods, and some become … hippies.   Gotta have an image.  Ultimately it was about style, and the key to balancing all of it can be found most likely in bands like the Who, the Kinks, the Small Faces and the Rolling Stones.   They were some of the most iconic Mod bands ever, having been influenced by Rockers’ heroes Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, Bo Diddley, and Buddy Holly.  If the crossover didn’t bother the bands, perhaps there was something bigger going on?  As Kate’s character lets on, she didn’t know Mods were supposed to hate Rockers until she read it in a magazine.

For anyone who is even mildly curious about Mods, Rockers, and the hotbed of popular culture that England was in the mid-60’s this show would be a fun starting point.   It gives the audience plenty of iconic images and music to go out and research, which will be a rich process in itself.

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To read more reviews and posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

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