A popular and well-respected artist on the New York City cabaret scene, Natasha Castillo is a singer, composer, producer, and Award-nominated emcee. She’s also, as audiences learned on Tuesday, March 3 at the cabaret hotspot Don’t Tell Mama, a proud child of the 80’s! During her high-spirited, funny, and oh-so-nostalgic show Natasha Castillo’s Excellent 80’s Adventure, the delightful performer shared some of the reasons why the ’80’s were so “huge” for her. Her family moved from Taiwan to Brooklyn. She sang her first solo at PS 272. And… she became a teenager! (Castillo’s performance of the teen girl feminist anthem Girls Just Want To Have Fun, with her unique creative touches, was truly hilarious.) From the glowsticks that decorated the tables at Don’t Tell Mama, to Nastasha’s “Madonna’s Lucky Star era”- inspired wardrobe (More about Madonna later…), the nostalgia in the room was palpable. And then, of course, there was Castillo’s seemingly infinite collection of hot tracks, from a medley of the ’80’s many one-hit wonders, to a threesome of movie music gems (The three “F”‘s: Flashdance, Fame, and Footloose). There was even an unsung hero of a love song thrown in: the underheard heartstring-tugger Two Less Lonely People in the World by Air Supply. Natasha Castillo’s Excellent ’80’s Adventure was directed by Lennie Watts and featured musical direction by Tracy Stark.
The music of the ’80’s– the decade between the disco and classic rock morphing into techno and grunge– has been discussed, analyzed, written about, and occasionally made fun of in the decades that followed. What made the music of that brightly colored time period so distinctive… and so loveable? Castillo’s show offered some insight. After her intro, the first song she performed was All Night Long, made famous by Lionel Richie. With lyrics like, “Everybody sing, everybody dance! Lose yourself in wild romance!”, it’s easy to understand why this was one of pop culture’s most enduring party songs. Next was Styx’ 1981 hit The Best of Times. After that, Castillo and her musicians gave the audience a cool, almost jazzy version of Prince’s 1999, arranged by Lennie Watts and Michael Holland. A hit song about 1999, written in the ’80’s, and performed in 2022… Talk about “musical meta”! This number was a prime example of how Castillo and her musicians (Stark on keys and background vocals, Karen Mack on background vocals, Matt Scharfglass on bass, and Don Kelly on drums) were lost in the pure joy of performing. Are you detecting a theme in this show so far? It’s worth noting that before Natasha kicked off her show, several attendees were commenting about how they hadn’t seen each other in person since before the pandemic, reminding us that live performance is still slowly finding its way back to its former glory. So, to answer the question “What made the music of the 80’s so amazing?”, maybe there’s no need for any sociocultural analysis: Let’s just say that the music, like the fluorescent fashions of the time, was just FUN! And hey, after 2020, doesn’t everyone deserve to party like it’s 1999… or even 1989?
Castillo also shared that the ’80’s were the era that she discovered the first notes of L-O-V-E… which allowed the audience to revel in some of the most remembered love sings of that pre-Internet era, when we actually made trips to the record store and watched videos on MTV. This included a medley by every party girl’s favorite pop duo of the time, Roxette. She also gave us Alabama’s Love in the First Degree. After that, it was one of my own personal favorites from that time period: Here Comes the Rain Again. In distinction to Annie Lennox’ moody vocalization, Castillo gives the audience a lighter version that’s uniquely her own. And that’s when this singer’s talents truly emerge: Natasha Castillo is truly at her best when she’s just being Natasha Castillo! Not many artists can succeed so well in doing songs ranging from power ballads to playful pop candy– but Castillo succeeds, whether she’s being sweet or sassy, or conveying the ranges of that aforementioned ’80’s-style love from giddy adolescent crush to feverish adult romance. Her voice is always remarkably unblemished, with great clarity.
Castillo initially entered the stage at Don’t Tell Mama to the tune of Olivia Newton John’s Magic, one of the biggest hits from 1980, the start of the decade. Later on, when honoring some of the icons from the 80’s (Madonna, Michael Jackson, Bon Jovi), she gave the audience Like A Prayer, which I’ve learned from a lot of personal research is the hands-down favorite of Madonna fans worldwide. That song came out in 1989, which was when the 80’s finally surrendered to a very different decade. Spanning 10 years of musical magic, it was clear that Natasha Castillo personally related to every one of the songs she performed that night. If the ultimate vibe of 80’s music was that Girls (and Boys, and Everyone Else…) Just Wanted to Have Fun, then the closer of the night, the infectious Rhythm is Gonna Get You from Miami Sound Machine, couldn’t have been a better finale. But, of course, there was an encore. I won’t reveal what it was, but I will say that like every other song we heard during this “totally awesome” show, only Natasha Castillo could have done it this way. I look forward to Ms. Castillo’s next “Children of the ’80’s” reunion!