Open Door Theater has a fun musical revue playing right now called Route 66. It’s a nostalgic, pop-tune-infused crowd-pleaser that is just the thing if you’re in need of escapism from the rigors of winter or the latest news cycle. The show is the creation of jukebox musical auteur Roger Bean. Frequent flyers at Open Door may remember Bean’s popular The Marvelous Wonderettes a few years back.
This current fast-paced, two-act production takes us on a trip along Route 66 via some great old tunes presented by a hard-working, engaging cast. Perhaps this show, featuring four truckers, does not always feature two women in the cast in most productions, but here it’s a good choice.
Route 66, nimbly directed by Mary Pat Sieck, features more than 90 minutes of fun and music. Isabella Andrews, Quinn Corrigan, Katie Iler and Tyler Sonkin are the energetic performers playing four singing truckers who take us along on their road trip by way of roughly 34 old tunes from the ’50s and ’60s. Of course, it’s important to note that with lyrics penned 60 or so years ago, some of the viewpoints in a couple of the songs now seem inappropriate in their attitudes toward women.
Regardless, they sing, they dance, they work the house comedically in a high-octane show. If you should bring kids along, they may never have heard mid-century hits like “I Get Around,” “Dead Man’s Curve,” or “Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” but I’ll bet they’ll enjoy them. These folks really sell their songs.
There is no plot or even lines of dialogue to hold the show together beyond the basic concept of a musical road trip. The numbers, range across a variety of styles, from Willie Nelson to the Beach Boys, and just keep on coming. And for every enduring classic like “King of the Road” and “On the Road Again,” there is an equal number of obscurities, like “Gallop to Gallup” and “Truck Stop Cutie.”
Several songs, unfamiliar to me, were hauntingly beautiful. Andrews, who has an especially lovely voice, sang an emotional solo, “Oklahoma Hills,” by Leon and Woody Guthrie.
Sonkin does especially well as a lonesome trucker on a long route, serenading the “Girl on the Billboard.” The words, however, are pretty questionable by today’s standards.
At the top of the stage, centered, is an illuminated panel in the style of an old car radio. Between the numbers, vintage commercials, deejays, and 1950s and ’60s advertising jingles fill the gaps. Some of this is funny, some of it grows monotonous.
This production works especially well in the intimate environs of Open Door Theater. Josh Prisching did the scenic and lighting design. There is a gas pump on one side of the stage. The back wall is covered with signs for various Route 66 locations. The busy cast makes frequent use of the aisles for entrances and exits.
The choreography by Naja Yatkin is playful and fun. I especially enjoyed the occasional homage to the rigorous dance fads of the ’60s, like The Swim, The Jerk, The Twist, and others. Lier and Shannon Hochmann designed the costumes and props. Mostly the cast wears plaid shirts and jeans. But there is a lot of cap-switching, and Corrigan is hilarious in his giant 10-gallon hat, riding his hobby horse, in “Long Tall Texan.”
The concept of a trip across America’s most fabled highway is not as tight as found in the usual jukebox musical. The songs do not build on established characters. But the show is an awful lot of fun. If you need to go out and relax, forget the winter and the current news cycle, this may be your perfect show.
“Route 66” is playing at Open Door Theater, 902 S. Ridgeland, Oak Park, Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m., and Sundays 3 p.m., through March 8. $27; $25, senior; $15, students. Tickets/more: opendoortheater.net/theatre, 708-386-5510.