Although it has been largely supplanted by interstate freeways, U.S. Route 66, which ran southwest from Chicago to Los Angeles, is an integral part of the lore of westward migration. Writer-director Roger Bean celebrates that lore in "Route 66," a musical revue that travels the legendary highway with songs mostly from the '50s and a few from the '60s. Bean developed the show for Milwaukee Repertory Theater, which premiered it in January 2001. Now he's directing its West Coast premiere at the Oregon Cabaret Theater in Ashland, just a block from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's three theaters. Presented as dinner theater in a beautifully restored old church, the show is a wonderful complement to the festival's productions even though it lacks the festival's boundless resources.
That's not to say it's not polished. On the contrary, it's a fast-paced, energetic show featuring a personable, talented quartet of men who know how to put a song across with their singing and dancing. The show is arranged in sections starting with Chicago. There the men -- Brandon Collinsworth, Scot Davis, Andrew Zane Fullerton and Michael Jenkinson (who also choreographed the show) in various combinations -- wear the white uniforms of Texaco service station attendants and sing songs like "Let's Go for a Ride" by Harlan Jackson, "Hot Rod Queen" by John Getz and the title song by Bobby Troup. From there the men change into cowboy outfits and take the audience to St. Louis, Joplin, Oklahoma City and Amarillo, where they end the first act with Terry Fell's "Truck Drivin' Man," complete with two-step and spoon routines.
The second half starts in Gallup and proceeds to Winona, Flagstaff, Kingman, Barstow, San Bernadino, Pasadena and Los Angeles with various costume changes (costumes by Kerri Lea Robbins). The San Bernadino segment is highlighted by an audience sing-along to Roger Miller's "King of the Road." The Los Angeles segment offers five car-related songs, certainly apt for the city but a little too much of a good thing. Then it's a reprise of the title song followed two Beach Boys songs, "Fun, Fun, Fun" and "I Get Around," both by Brian Wilson and Mike Love. The entire show is presented with recorded accompaniment (musical director Darcy Danielson operates the sound board). Designed by producing artistic director Craig Hudson, the small stage is adorned with old-fashioned gas pumps and road signs. The sound is by Frank Sullivan, lighting (a bit erratic on the night reviewed) by Eric Holden.
Although dinner is optional, it's well worth the additional cost. Resident chef Douglas O. Todd customizes the menus for each show, so this one has a variety of Southwestern-themed offerings. Prices are reasonable, and the food is quite good, making both comparable to most restaurants in downtown Ashland. Oregon Cabaret Theatre has a large local following, and many Ashland visitors add it to their theatrical itinerary for good reason -- the fun of seeing a cheery musical performed well in a pleasant setting with good food. It's worth seeing.
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