American Anthems On Route 66 – 10th February 2012
Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
Luckily the snow didn’t stopped a little outing for Arts Blurb last week, and this one was all about hearing some of my favourite songs, and iconic anthems performed live. American Anthems on Route 66 has been touring the UK for the past few weeks, with a cast of singers, dancers, a live band, and special guest John Parr, of ‘St Elmos Fire’ fame , encouraging everyone to join them in ‘rocking out’ along Route 66.
As I took my seat, I was surrounded by a crowd of people who were mostly a lot older than me. I felt a little out of place, and also wondered if I was going to be watching musical theatre, tribute acts, or a rock concert? Well on reflection, I think I got all three.
The show was loosely based around a story of a journey down the infamous Route 66 to hunt out elusive singer Rocky Rhodes, and reunite him with his band for one last concert in New York. On the surface this seemed like a good plot on which to build a show, and an epic finale around, although it was so infrequently referred too, that when the plot did reappear it seemed a bit out of place.
That said, the storyline did provide an excuse for a smattering of humour, and a few dodgy ‘pantomime’ American accents. Kudos goes to Rob Castell for playing up the role of the eccentric preacher to the hilt. The motorbike, small bar set-up, American flags, and lit up Route 66 sign, provided a simple yet effective backdrop for the cast, who in their leather waistcoats, sequins and rock chick outfits, added to the rock n roll vibe.
Storyline aside, this was a show that was always going to be focussed on the music, and we ended up with just over 2 hours of it! The rapid change of pace moved from up-tempo rock classics, to emotive ballads, with some mid-tempo tracks thrown in. In the first half we were treated to tracks like ‘Born To Run’, ‘Say A Little Prayer’, ‘Desperado’ , and ‘Take It Easy’. Although I spotted a few people clapping along and itching to get up and dance, the audience were in the main surprisingly reserved, given the high energy show they were watching, although by the time ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ ended the first half, they were certainly more reactive.
After a few more songs from the cast in the second half, special guest John Parr was introduced. I have no idea why this guy was adopted by America but never made it here, but the Civic crowd certainly appreciated his inclusion in the show. John kicked off with the raunchy track ‘Naughty Naughty’, before sitting down to perform some intricate work on his acoustic guitar. Although his stint on stage was over far too quickly, he finished with ‘St Elmo’s Fire’, a definite high point that paved the way for a memorable end to the show. ‘Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’ , ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love With You’ and a rousing rendition of ‘Knocking On Heaven’s Door’ helped finish off the night in much the same way it had begun, full of energy and fun!
I can’t really critique the production too much, as it was a fun night out, but I would say the dizzying amount of costume changes for the ladies seemed a bit unnecessary, and Tiffany Low shone on the ballads, more than the up-tempo numbers.
The cast crossed several age ranges, but fused together youthful energy and experience to create a fun night out. More of a plotline and ad-libbing with the crowd would have further highlighted their strengths, but they packed an awful lot into their show, and added an 80’s star to the line-up, so I can’t complain too much.
Although I wouldn’t take anything away from the hardworking cast, I do have to end by singling out the live band for a mention. Their musicianship, stole the show for me in some ways, and with the guitar solo’s from Nathan O’Borne, gave American Anthems the credibility it deserved.
To find out more about American Anthems and future tours, visit www.americananthems.co.uk or the facebook page.