R. Eric Thomas’ Backing Track shows us love and grief…with karaoke

-Brenda Hillegas
photo by Wide Eyed Studios

Backing Track, commissioned by Arden Theatre Company, is on stage now through April 10th. It’s a light-hearted look at grief, family tension, finding love, and finding your way. This play by acclaimed television writer, playwright, and national bestselling author R. Eric Thomas, is the first world premiere to come to life on the Arden stages since 2020!

Avery- an incredible and well-rounded performance by Brenson Thomas in his Arden debut- returns home from his cruise ship karaoke gig to spend time with his mother, Mel (who recently lost her wife, Miriam). Mel is sharp, but tired, and is ready to pass the family home onto Avery. But is he ready for such responsibilities and a change to his care-free lifestyle? How can he find love in his small town when there’s so much more out there…he takes a chance on Grindr anyway and what he finds surprises and shocks him (and the rest of the characters as well). Mel’s hangout- a beloved and pioneering lesbian bar also filled with karaoke memories- is set to close. Avery’s sister Jessica is about to have a baby and head back to her new home in Canada with husband Rene. Neighbors Esther and Abraham see the evolution of their street and encourage growth (though Avery and his mom are reluctant) for their town. So many rapid changes for Avery and his environment make his head spin. Backing Track embraces and mourns changes all at the same time, which is completely valid and relatable to everyone. The play’s brilliant use of a karaoke set up and a visual mixed tape ease Avery (and us) into everything that comes his way.

The cast includes Joseph Ahmed as Rene, Melanye Finister as Mel, Carl Hsu as Abraham, Danielle Lenee as Jessica, Bi Jean Ngo as Esther, and is directed by Rebecca Wright. At the performance I saw, understudy Katrina Hall went on as Mel and was fantastic at bringing out the character’s quirks and dry humor.

The show is performed in Arden’s intimate Arcadia Stage, so you’re in for a more personal experience- it feels like you really are inside Avery’s cruise ship shows or right on his mom’s couch watching Titanic (again) with her. As characters take to the mic to express the mood, you have a front row seat no matter where you are in the room. Through music the story is given depth and we can validate the characters’ feelings. Music heals and helps us understand. “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” by Celine Dion, reminds me of late night MTV watching as a kid. Now, it will remind me of Backing Track and the importance of making small steps to big and beautiful changes.

Tickets to Backing Track can be purchased here. Read more about the show and our Q&A with R. Eric Thomas on the blog.

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