Route 66 can't kick into high gear | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Route 66 can't kick into high gear

Roger Bean's jukebox musical has pleasant songs, but no point to its journey.

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There is no story in Roger Bean's jukebox musical, nor are there any characters, only the barest fig leaf of a unifying theme; all of the songs in this show are either about the iconic highway, stretching from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, or they concern stops along the way. If you think this is not enough to power a two-hour show, you're right.

Bean depends utterly on the songs, and on the nostalgic feelings these old chestnuts from mid-20th-century America—among them "King of the Road," "On the Road Again," and the one the show is named after—are meant to evoke in the audience. He doesn't even mix in allusions to the myriad references to the Route in literature, film, and television. (Both John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and Jack Kerouac's On the Road feature long swatches of 66, but you wouldn't know it from this show.)

The songs in the show are nice. Bean is not a bad anthologist; he does a good job of giving us a fine mix of familiar and overlooked tunes, in a wide variety of styles and genres. But in the end, Bean depends way too much on a strong ensemble of singer-actor-dancers to carry the show.

Sadly that is not what we have here. Instead we get four pretty good singers, directed by Mary Pat Sieck, who do a pretty good job, but almost none display the star power needed to make these gems shine. That is not to say the cast lacks charm. Quinn Corrigan is particularly adept at a certain calculated goofiness. But no one in the ensemble has the chops, or that inexpressible something, needed to make an audience go wow. It doesn't help that they are not singing with a live band, but with a canned synthesizer-filled accompaniment. To be sure, you won't get your kicks from this Route 66.  v

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