The actual highway traversed for years from Chicago to Los Angeles, Route 66, provided a easy-access pathway for generations to travel from the Midwest to the West Coast, but the highway diverted recently to Olathe, Kansas when the musical version opened at The Chestnut Fine Arts Center, Nov. 5 for a six-week run.
The musical homage to the famous highway tunefully revisits the title song, first recorded by Nat King Cole in the mid 1940s. From there the show rolls along with the musical memories of the 1950s to the mid 1960s and the muscle car era. The 20-year festival of American music brings a super-talented cast to the Chestnut stage.
Knowing the voices of the cast, in this case, the talent out-distanced the music. All of the four main performers possess dynamic, powerful voices that the production’s musical numbers muffles. The show is fun and fast-paced, but the songs do not allow for the performers to showcase the strength of their voices. Instead, they create fun characters, dance, display humorous facial expressions, and just win the crowd with their charm and antics. The songs in the first act are more obscure and were not always mega-hits, but the second act revs up audiences with the more well known songs of the 1960s.
Producing artistic director, Brad Zimmerman selected the most talented cast who definitely can deliver the goods for “Route 66.” The cast is: Jay Coombs, Patrick Lewallen, Joel Morrison, and Dave Thompson. The on-stage combo that also adds major enjoyment to the show is Brian Wilson on guitar, Ken Remmert on percussion, and Lenora Remmert on piano. Their musical performance adds the prefect touch for an evening of musical entertainment.
“Route 66″ is a book musical with a story line to accompany the music. For this production, Val Fagan wrote the book to connect the musical numbers. “Route 66″ is by Roger Bean with music by Brian Baker. Brad Zimmerman directed with a creative team in place to create the production that includes: Terri Babbitt, stage manager; Heather Lewallen, choreographer, spotlight, usher; Lenora Rimmert, music director; Gavin Carter, crew; Debbie Payne set design.
Act One includes such songs as “Texaco Star Theme,” “Hot Rod Queen,” Every Woman I Know,” “Bring My Cadillac Back,” “Let’s Go For a Ride,” “Route 66,” “Highway Patrol,” “Raining in my Heart,” “I’ve Been Everywhere,” “Truck Stop Cutie,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” The highlights of the act is Lewallen rapidly singing the mind boggling “I’ve Been Everywhere,” and Jay Coombes gender-bending turn as the Truck Stop Cutie.
To gear up the crowd, Elvis Presley, Everly Brothers, Jan and Dean, Beach Boys and Carl Perkins ditties set the tone for the after intermission act. Everyone knows The King, the Beach Boys, and remembers the muscle car songs of the mid-60s before and during The British Invasion. The California music remains a solid favorite for oldie lovers.
Act II brings fourth more recognizable songs and an audience sing-a-long with “King of the Road.” Other songs include: “Jailhouse Rock,” “Long Tall Texan,” “Cathy’s Clown,” “The Girl on the Billboard,” “Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” “Dead Man’s Curve,” “Hey, Little Cobra,” “Kansas City,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” and “I Get Around.” The music in Act II use more famous songs and have the audience singing along. Again, Jay Coombes dons a housecoat, wig, and uses a walker as the Little old lady from Pasadena, to the delight of the crowd.
“Route 66″ speeds along at a quick pace and patrons find themselves back in their cars for their return home within two hours. The show continues through Dec. 20. For tickets and more information on The Chestnut, check their website. Tickets can be purchased by phone at 913.764.2121 or on the Chestnut website. Advance tickets insure seating availability.