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Article posted: 9/27/2013 6:00 AM

'Route 66' a pleasant exercise in 1950s nostalgia

By Matt Arado

Like many of the bubblegum-pop tunes it features, "Route 66" at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre is quick, breezy and entertaining. It's also likely to be forgotten soon after the final note plays.

Created and written by Roger Bean, the musical revue pays adoring tribute to the rock 'n' roll songs of the 1950s and early '60s. The show takes us on a journey that begins at a Chicago Texaco station and ends in sunny California, the two points connected, of course, by that iconic Main Street of America, Route 66.

Our guides along the way are four workers from the gas station, played by Preston Smith, Chase McCurdy, Timothy Sullivan and Daniel Ermel. They sing and dance their way through nearly three dozen car-and-road tunes -- "Hot Rod Queen," "Beep Beep," "King of the Road," "Dead Man's Curve," you get the idea. The singers are backed throughout by bassist John Summers, keyboardist Mike Evans and drummer Nick Anderson.

There's no real plot or story in "Route 66." The performers quickly move from one song to the other, occasionally changing clothes or accents to suggest new locations on the journey -- St. Louis, Tulsa, Amarillo. Dialogue is virtually nonexistent.

What the show offers instead of drama is nostalgia, a chance to relive a time gone by. Anyone with fond memories of the era depicted in "Route 66" will smile like a little kid throughout the show. The set consists of a lovingly re-created 1950s gas station, complete with a service garage. In a clever touch, the top of the garage becomes an old radio dial; between the live musical numbers, a needle on the dial moves back and forth, eventually settling on a "station" that's broadcasting a vintage car commercial. It's a fun device, and it creates a smooth transition from one number to the next.

The four players all do a solid job, even on the trickier numbers. I, for one, would hate to try to match the otherworldly harmonies of the Beach Boys on a song like "Fun, Fun, Fun," but Smith, McCurdy, Sullivan and Ermel hold their own. All four have a genial presence, which helps during some of the more humorous numbers. Their rendition of "The Little Old Lady From Pasadena," for instance, includes an appearance by Sullivan in old-lady drag, and it's one of the highlights of the show.

As pleasant as "Route 66" is, though, I found myself wishing for more. I would have liked more dynamic choreography, which is restrained and forgettable through most of the show. The backing music is competently done, but it cries out for the jangle and squeal of electric guitar, particularly in the final stretch of surf-rock songs. I liked what I saw onstage, but I was never knocked out by it.

I expect most people, though, will turn to "Route 66" for a fun trip down memory lane. On that score, "Route 66" delivers.

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