Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Alamo Experience: 90s Will Make Love to You

*Note: this article originally ran on

As a franchise, the Alamo Drafthouse is fairly notorious for its special presentations. They really do it all in this regard: They show old films, they bring in comedians to mock bad movies, and they even have a running series called The Action Pack, through which the theater presents quote-along and sing-along screenings every month. 

Over the years, I've heard a lot in particular about these sing-alongs, where music videos are shown in all their glory and with the closed-captioning on -- y'know, so you can properly learn that it's "hold me closer, tiny dancer" and not "hold me closer, Tony Danza." 

Having never been myself, though, one thing that I didn't quite understand was how these sing-alongs jived with Alamo's no talking policy. But now all of my questions and speculations have finally been answered.

Last week, I went to my first sing-along.

Specifically, I went to a sing-along called "The 90's Will Make Love to You." And, as with any Action Pack event, there were props -- many, many props. Upon entering the theater, we were given blow-up microphones, glow sticks, condoms (y'know, because the '90s were about to make love to us) and animal crackers (for reasons I'll explain shortly). 

If I had to guess, I'd say the theater was about three-quarters full by the time the lights started to dim a little after 8:15 p.m. Then, following your traditional Alamo previews, our host -- a fake Steve Urkel -- came out to tell us the rules for these evenings.

Whereas the Alamo has earned its fair share of headlines over the years for kicking out patrons for speaking during screenings, our Urkel made it clear from the jump: Singing and dancing are not only allowed in these events, but encouraged. The microphones were to be used for us to better feel like we were truly performing our favorite songs. The animal crackers were to be used when Aerosmith's "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing" came on because, even though that movie sucked, that scene with Ben Affleck and the animal crackers is amazing. And now, if we wanted to acted out that scene in real life, we could.

OK, so that was all pretty cool to hear. But it was what Urkel said next that really gave me pause. He said something I never thought I would hear at The Alamo -- that we could take pictures during the show. So, clearly, the normal Alamo rules are completely thrown out the window at these Action Pack affairs. If I'm being fully honest, though, hearing that last made me pretty nervous. Cell phone glare is quite annoying in a theater setting. We all know that. So, yeah, I was worried that it would negatively affect this experience.

But I really had no reason to be worried. Pretty quickly, it became clear that there would be far too many distractions -- and, t be clear, better ones -- than cell phones. As soon Urkel was done with his spiel, the first chunk of music videos came on. Mostly, it was a variety of R&B -- R. Kelly's "Bump N' Grind, Salt-N-Pepa's "Let's Talk About Sex" and Blackstreet's "No Diggity." 

During this opening stretch, there was some singing from the crowd. But most people, it seemed, were a little too nervous to let loose, stand up and dance. Perhaps the alcohol hadn't hit them yet? I don't know. All I know is that, initially, there was only a few scattered individuals standing.

Then, about halfway through the event, Christina Aguilera's "Genie In A Bottle" came on. And that changed everything.

Maybe it was that the preteens and teenagers in all of us still can't let go of the MTV pop music of the '90s, but the theater just completely and utterly erupted. Al of a sudden, everyone was up dancing and singing. And for the rest of the night, every soul in the theater was on their feet. 

Better yet, they were friendly. At one point, my significant other ran to the restroom and Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" came on, so I just started unabashedly belting the song out with a random neighbor. Right away, a couple of her friends seated in the row ahead of us joined in with us. Together, we then started swaying to the music together and singing along at the top of our lungs as the big screen before us showed Jack and Rose falling in love. 

I had no idea who these ladies were. But it didn't really matter. We were going to enjoy this girly moment together, dammit. Well, OK, them more than me, it seems. They all eventually broke away and ran up to the front of the theater to do their best "I'm the king of the world!" impressions. That was a little too much for me, so I decided to stay behind by my seat.

But I kept dancing and singing, I'll tell you that. It was just so tough not to! Next came Seal's "Kiss From A Rose," which was followed by that Aerosmith song and our cue to use our animal crackers. Then the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way" came on. 

And, listen, I'm not going to lie to you guys. I just lost it when the Backstreet Boys came on. This was my jam. I lived for this music when I was 12. I was in love with this moment.

I was in love with the next one, too. After Backstreet, the whole theater was kind of caught off-guard when the next song was Nine Inch Nails' "Closer." It was a fairly weird transition, and it definitely stopped all of the singing right in its tracks. Most of the theater was confused. As for me, I was just laughing the whole time. I thought it was a genius move on the programmers' part!

Lucky for everyone else things trended back toward the middle from there -- and, somewhat surprisingly, they even followed a pretty traditional concert format. After Sisqo's "Thong Song," an announcer informed us all that the next song -- Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love To You," about as fitting a song as can be included in a set of '90s love songs -- would be the last one for the night. 

Except, just like your typical encore fake-out at any concert, it wasn't.

The ultimate love song, Whitney Houston's take on "I Will Always Love You" came on next, and, just as they would at a concert, the crowd exploded with glee once more. It was a fairly invigorating thing to see: Everyone was up and singing, arm in arm, microphones in hand. Having the lyrics on the screen -- and extended where necessary to match the pronounced vocalizations of the performers -- certainly helped things. When Whitney belted, "AND IIIIIIWILL ALLLLLWAYS LOOOOOVE YOOOOOOUUUUU," the entire screen was filled with words -- y'know, so everyone could sing exactly like her, obviously.

By the time the song ended, the whole room was smiling. It was the perfect note to end on, really.

Except, no, we still weren't finished. There was another encore.

This time, it was Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back." And, predictable an inclusion as it may have been in a '90s set, the audience ate it up. More half of the attendees ran down to the front of the house to dance and shake their rumps along to what would indeed be the final song of the evening

Then, finally, two hours of love songs past first being dimmed, the lights came back up and we all laughed our way out of the theater.

I'll admit it: I had my hesitations going into this sing-along. But all of them proved moot in the end. So long as you're not completely stuck up and thus unable to lose yourself in the music, these things really are a good time. And, given that the Alamo does these each and every month with a different theme each time, their's a schedule worth keeping an eye on. 

Plus, they let you take those props home with you.

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