Audiences get their kicks on ‘Route 66’

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Route 66

Zachary Dylan Robbins, Adam Estes, Danny Calvert and Justin Robertson in “Route 66.”

Let’s get the important stuff out of the way first.

“Route” is pronounced “root,” as in “Route 66,” according to writer and director Roger Bean. While many know – and have travelled – the American highway made famous in song and culture, Bean has used the fabled “Mother Road” as inspiration for a musical revue.

Bean’s “Route 66,” currently playing at the Stackner Cabaret at The Rep, covers the highway in song and dance. It starts with the soulful sounds of Chicago R&B, passes through the country/western twangs of the South and winds up in the bright, sunny harmonies of Los Angeles.

But even though the actual Route 66 still remains approximately 2,400 miles, this musical version has grown longer since its initial appearance at The Rep in 2001. And, due to audience demand, the production’s run has been extended until May 9.

“When I first did it at The Rep, it was one act,” says Bean from his office in Los Angeles, where he lives with his partner of nine years Perry Steele Patton. “But the Oregon Cabaret Theater needed an intermission, so I expanded it and added some songs I couldn’t get in the first time.”

The new, expanded production clocks in at just under two hours (with intermission). Audiences “on the first road trip” nine years ago will recognize some of the same songs and numbers, but they’re arranged in a different order.

In addition to the new material, Bean is working with some new faces in the four-member cast, as well as some familiar ones. “I do like to work with people I have some familiarity with,” Bean says, referring to cast members Danny Calvert and Zachary Robbins. Adam Estes and Justin Robertson round out the talented cast, which has audience members reminiscing nostalgically as much as laughing at the funny bits.

One recurring road trip theme is a hilarious skit – “Diesel on my Tail” – about a slow driver (with “child” in tow) and the frustrated driver trying to pass. Another skit has Estes dressed up as a waitress at small town diner, where the cowboys try to impress “her.”

Bean captures the spirit of the road and the culture of the geography with a lighted radio dial and old-time gas station and oil company radio commercials. Audiences clearly enjoy the remembrances of times past.

“It kind of becomes a well-oiled machine,” Bean says (no pun intended). “I know how it operates and how to push things” for the audiences and actors to enjoy.

For Bean, the best part of this road most travelled is to get people to “leave their cares behind” while they move forward on “Route 66.”

“It’s great music,” Bean says. “It’s a great time. And you leave saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I had so much fun!’”

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