Actors’ Summit has been high on Roger Bean lately, producing his perky, campy holiday revue Winter Wonderettes at Christmas and now turning to his all-male musical ode to American automotive history — Route 66.
Both shows are full of silly humor but they do deliver the best of what musical revues should offer — nicely arranged and sung harmonies. In Route 66, male quartet Frank Jackman, Shawn Galligan, Adam Klusty and Gabriel Riazi bring to life Bean’s rock ’n’ road assemblage of ’50s and ’60s pop hits that celebrate that American need for speed and travel.
It’s too bad, though, that for about a year, Actors’ Summit has turned to recorded tracks as accompaniment for most of its musicals. It’s a money-saving measure that director MaryJo Alexander says also ensures consistency in sound balance throughout the house. Even with the canned music, though, the sound balance Sunday made it difficult to hear some of the vocals at the start of this show.
As a musical theatergoer, I’m a purist who never wants to get used to a lack of live instrumentalists, no matter what the reason.
This show's framework has performers taking the audience on a road trip of favorite traveling tunes down Route 66, from Chicago to Los Angeles. The four men, dressed as Texaco car mechanics, are humorously folksy as they yell out to audience members about oil changes and other services.
They launch into fun-loving songs ranging from the hoedown-flavored Truck Drivin’ Man and manly King of the Road to the speed-themed Hot Rod Queen and a final medley of racing tunes.
Riazi was an emergency replacement after original cast member Stephen Brockway, an Actors’ Summit regular, died unexpectedly June 11. The show’s entire run is dedicated to the Cuyahoga Falls native, 39, who had performed with Actors’ Summit for nearly four years and appeared in three productions in the last year alone.
Brockway, a Baldwin-Wallace graduate, had sung in national tours and on cruise ships. His thrilling voice and brilliant comedic timing were a gift to Northeast Ohio audiences.
Theater co-artistic director Neil Thackaberry said losing Brockway ‘‘was like a huge punch in the stomach’’ for the Actors’ Summit family.
“He was just a remarkable human being,’’ Thackaberry said. “His concentration onstage was fantastic and his connection with the audience — it’s something that you can’t teach.’’
Riazi had just one week to learn the show’s songs, choreography and blocking but his performance was so strong Sunday, nobody would have known this. He excels with the musical revue’s broad comedy, including his characterization as an over-the-top Texan in Long Tall Texan and his zany turn as a woman in Truck Stop Cutie. He also creates a believable emotional arc in The Girl on the Billboard.
Under Alexander's fun-loving direction, Equity actor Jackman has a unique way of putting the pedal to the metal in The Little Old Lady from Pasadena and also milks plenty of humor from a wimpy little horn in Beep Beep. It's a credit to the four actors that they can keep a straight face as they roll around the stage in contraptions cleverly constructed as the front ends of cars and trucks.
There’s a lot of sheer goofiness in this show but things slow down for a couple of tender moments, including Klusty’s emotional solo Oklahoma Hills, by Leon and Woody Guthrie, as well as his lovely melody in The Long Red Line. The quartet offers plenty of rich harmonies and some nice falsetto singing by both Klusty and Riazi.
Route 66 isn't as endearing as Pump Boys and Dinettes or Forever Plaid, but if you're looking for some light summer fun, this could be your ticket. The cast and audience certainly were getting their kicks Sunday on Route 66.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or email@example.com.