Now playing at the Fallon House Theatre in Columbia is Sierra Repertory Theatre’s lively production of “Route 66.” This musical revue, which pays tribute to the Mother Road in its heyday, is a song fest of 50’s and early 60’s songs celebrating free-spirited rambling. The play was written by Roger Bean, who created many popular jukebox musicals, including the “Marvelous Wonderettes” and its sequels. This play has all the hallmarks of a Bean creation, and the direction and choreography by Adam Estes make the most of its fast-paced, audience-pleasing elements.
What helps make this production so entertaining is the ensemble work by the energetic cast of four accomplished actors. This quartet includes Griffin Barr, Jerry Lee, Stephen Markarian and Miguel Ragel Wilson. Barr was last seen at SRT as “Miss Bible Belt” in “Pageant.” Jerry Lee is SRT’s marketing director and recently appeared in the company’s “Intimate Apparel.” Both Wilson and Markarian are making their SRT debuts, and both have considerable theater credits on their resumes.
Jay Newington’s imaginative set consists of an authentically detailed old time Chicago service station, representing an era when employees actually pumped your gas and cleaned your windshields. To add to the ambiance, an outsized radio dial is positioned above the proscenium. When its needle moves, retro car advertisements punctuate the proceedings. It is from this locale that the four enthusiastic service station attendants set out on an imaginary road-trip from Chicago to Los Angeles set to music by Woody Guthrie, Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, The Beach Boys, and many others.
Their melodic journey through the towns and farms served by historic Route 66 provides them the opportunity to sing and dance through close to 30 musical numbers about all things automotive. Along the road they encounter various truckers, cowboys, police officers, truck stop waitresses and other notable characters. Some of the more familiar songs include “Beep, Beep,” “Dead Man’s Curve,” “King of the Road,” “The Girl on the Billboard,” “On the Road Again,” “Oklahoma Hills” and, of course, the classic hit, “Route 66.”
The dexterity of these four very talented actors elevate this production to much more than just another jukebox musical. All of the actors have remarkable voices, and they impress both in harmony and individually. They forge an easy connection to the audience, and their polished dance numbers abound with energy.
There are quite a few genuinely hilarious moments and some surprises along the way. Particularly memorable is Lee’s uproariously funny rendition of “Long Tall Texan.” The cleverly staged “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” performed by the entire cast, elicits some laugh-out-loud moments. And, when Lee sings a resonant “King of the Road,” audience participation is encouraged and appreciated.
Diana Newington created the appealing collection of vintage costumes, which range from spiffy uniforms, to cowboy attire, to the tie-dyed apparel of a couple of itinerant flower children. Josh Hemmo’s colorful and fluid lighting, not only illuminates the stage, but often casts effective patterns on the walls of the theater. The wonderful musical direction is by John Jay Espino.
“Route 66” is dynamic, spirited entertainment, which is irresistible fun for the entire family.
For those who experienced the era portrayed, this is a delightful trip down memory lane. Those who are too young to remember should appreciate this nod to a distinctive time in American history. “Route 66” runs through April 21 at the historic Fallon House Theatre at Columbia State Historic Park. For tickets or more information visit www.sierrarep.org, or call (209) 532-3120.