The show recreates the 1991 action movie about bank robbing surfers, with a adventurous twist
“Point Break” ain’t Shakespeare, but that hasn’t stopped Jaime Keeling from staging live versions of the highly adrenalized bank-robbing surfer movie for the last dozen years.
“Point Break Live” features a cast of actors taking on the roles made famous by Patrick Swayze (as Zen-surfer-guru Bodhi), Lori Petty (as Tyler, a tough yet tender-hearted surfer) and Gary Busey (as seen-it-all FBI wildman Angelo Pappas), but with a canny twist: Every night, the lead role of Johnny Utah, the quarterback-turned-FBI agent-turned surfer dude played in the movie by a dumbfounded Keanu Reeves, is cast from the audience and is delivered lines via cue card.
“If you think you can out-act Keanu Reeves, get up on my stage,” says Keeling, on the phone from New York last month. “It’s the ultimate underdog role. If you’re going to win an audience over with a live theater show, that does it. You just love this guy, or girl, who’s on stage. You love them for being brave.”
After she staged the first production of “Point Break Live” in Seattle in 2003, Keeling brought the show to San Francisco and then Los Angeles, where it is now the longest-running live theater show in L.A. history. After hitting the road — “Point Break Live” was staged at Bonnaroo last summer — the show is in the midst of its first Midwest tour, and it plays Saint Andrew’s Hall in Detroit on Thursday.
Over the years, celebrities including Justin Long and Kirsten Dunst and “Point Break” cast members from Busey to Petty have participated in the show. One person who hasn’t is Reeves, who remains Keeling’s white whale.
Keeling, 37, was a college student home for spring break when she found a VHS copy of the 1991 action thriller and popped it into her VCR. She was blown away — not only by the heart-racing action sequences, staged by director Kathryn Bigelow, but by the crazy kitsch of it, from Reeves’ wooden line readings to Busey’s over-the-top performance.
“I loved it,” says Keeling. “I brought it back to college and forced all my friends to watch it.”
After turning all her friends into “Point Break” obsessives and directing them in re-creations of the movie at parties, she found herself in a position to do a live production of “Point Break” at a small black box theater in Seattle in 2003, and she’s been riding the wave ever since.
The show runs about two hours, and the casting of the Johnny Utah role — volunteers are put through a series of tests and the audience votes by applause — takes up about the first 15 minutes. Aside from being a love letter to its source material, “Point Break Live” works as comedy and as something greater, Keeling says. “By the end, you feel like you’ve really been through something.”
Keeling says she’s not sure how many times she’s seen “Point Break” — “can it be 1,000? No, it can’t be 1,000,” she says — but she still sits down and watches it several times a year. She says the live show has taken on a life of its own, and aside from playing to fans, it also plays well to newbies to the “Point Break” universe.
“I have had so many people that will come up to me afterward and will glow-glow-glow about it, and they’re like, ‘We’ve never seen the movie and we love the show!’ ” she says. “That’s the ultimate compliment. That’s when you’re like, ‘wow.’ ”
Or as Johnny Utah might say, “Whoa.”
Point Break Live
7 p.m. Thursday
Saint Andrew’s Hall
431 E. Congress, Detroit