Damn This Traffic Jam

You can dress a bunch of actors in grease-stained coveralls and make them sing a lot of songs about women they'd like to bed, but give them synchronized dance moves to do and they'll always look like a line of chorus girls. Proof of this is expertly and rather loudly displayed in Phoenix Theatre's Route 66, in which four men are made to pirouette through a pile of tunes about the joys of traveling down the world's most famous deserted highway.

No matter how well executed -- and this production is certainly energetic and nicely sung -- Route 66 is merely another in an ever-growing line of musical revues in which a same-sex cast revives old songs huddled around a vague theme. It's a tired hybrid, even at its best -- and Roger Bean's program, built on Bobby Troup's famous 1946 tribute to the "Mother Road," is not the very best example of this kind of cabaret.

It is, however, perfect fare for those who still find songs about CB radios amusing, or can't get enough of guys in dresses (David Jones appears in a tiny pink waitress uniform in "Truck Stop Cutie," Mark Stoddard as a crotchety old bag in "Little Old Lady From Pasadena"). If what you really want from an evening's entertainment is a long, long medley of songs about the plight of the trucker, or think a teeny clown car shaped like a toilet is a riot, this is the show for you -- and other people who've never seen the dozen or so other shows out there that are very much like this one.

The score is as imaginative as an oldies tape, but it's played by a first-rate, three-piece combo so good they made me believe in "Dead Man's Curve," even if singer Jones didn't. Elsewhere, the singing is uniformly good, if rarely masculine -- which matters in a show about the road and the roadside babes that the cast wants us to believe they're off to boff. I stayed awake for the inadvertent hilarity of Jones pelvic-thrusting his way through "Every Woman I Know" and Nick Cartell singing "C'mon, Honey, be my hot rod queen," which the rest of the audience seemed willing to buy.

There are some intentional laughs, like a couple of wisecracks about Sedona grafted onto a grating chorus of "On the Road Again" and the Joe Arpaio routine built around "Don't Haul Bricks on 66," about a couple of hippie inmates handcuffed together and forced to dance.

Mostly, though, the show is given over to director/choreographer Robert Kolby Harper's workmanlike routines, most of them either better suited for chorines or else danced by men as if they were chorines. Nearly half of these numbers involve an actor sitting in a chair, jiggling an imaginary steering wheel and pretending to drive. Fun!

Richard B. Farlow's eye-pleasing set re-creates an old mechanic's station, and Connie Furr-Soloman's costuming involves a lot of plaid but very little imagination, although the white marabou chaps Jones wears in one number are magnificent.

And there you have it: A nice set, some good singing, a magnificent pair of marabou chaps. What does it all mean? If you're asking me, it means stay home and watch TV -- you've more than likely seen this all before.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela