America the Music
at Coachlight Theater
by Barney Quick
Brown County keeps rediscovering that its real charm is its homemade offerings. The apple butter, guitars and paintings crafted here always outpace the appeal of the imports. This is true of the area’s theater as well, and nothing says Brown County theater like a Coachlight musical. True to the way things are done in the hills of Brown, Coachlight productions are created by a close-knit team of two married couples and a cast of area residents.
Co-Producer and Artistic Director / Writer Doug May has added a new show this year, a vaudeville-style pageant called America the Music. “When I was opening the Norway pavilion at Epcot Center [in his former position as a Disney Entertainment executive] a comment was made about how emotional Americans are about their country, and when I was living in France, I was asked why Americans seem to always have a smile on their face and are so easy to laugh,” says May. “These two comments have been with me for years and were at the heart of this show. America the Music is an emotional celebration of our country and the power that we have as a people to remember to smile and laugh.”
In this show, one finds a bit fewer of the multilayered story lines that characterize most Coachlight productions, but the characters are well-wrought and funny nonetheless. Franco Fanfare Franetti, played by Jason Jacobi and attired in full Uncle Sam regalia, provides perfectly ill-timed bleats on his bugle-like horn, as Rose de la Rouge (Janet Ransdell) tries to announce numbers. Leslie Davidson as Tina the Twirler, in the little white quasi-sailor suit replete with tails and cap, is all blonde perkiness, holding up signs and kicking her heels. The Magnificent Mary (Whitney Thetford) is the dignified diva in gown and jewels. The Vivacious Veronica (Judy Turnbow) patiently endures the foibles of the rest of the cast, including a stagestruck puppet named Victor, with whom she performs duets. Doug Leeper’s Mortimer the Magician provides that quintessential Coachlight wackiness, that sense that of spoof that leavens the show’s lump-in-the-throat moments.
One should enter the theater with a willingness to be a good sport, as there are some interactive moments during the evening. During a scene in which Mortimer places a box on Mary’s head and performs the time-honored trick of thrusting rods through it, someone is plucked from the audience to serve as his assistant. Part of that job involves wearing the assistant’s wig. During the finale, an audience volunteer holds an American flag during the singing of the national anthem. On the particular evening when this reporter attended the show, the volunteer took readily to his task, passionately waving the flag and singing loudly.
Emotional moments occur throughout the production. The songs are pretty much what one would expect: “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” the Marines Hymn, “America the Beautiful,” and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” Some more contemporary pop songs such as Neil Diamond’s “America” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” find their way into the lineup as well.
There is some good choreography in America the Music, particularly the ensemble tap-dancing-and-cane routine during the George M. Cohan medley. Of course, sight gags involving canes show up as well.
The cast’s vocal talents are noteworthy. Both Jacobi and Leeper can pull off a country twang convincingly. Jacobi and Thetford bring soulful intensity to “America the Beautiful.” Davidson imparts an endearingly old-school show-business vibe to “Swanee.” Ransdell gives a thoughtful rendition of “Georgia on My Mind.”
Coachlight productions generally rotate, but America the Music is going to be featured every night of the first week of July in commemoration of Independence Day. For those looking for an appropriate holiday activity, this show provides a joyous reminder of how profound the nature of our country is. With a balance of loopy humor and straightforward patriotism, the cast and crew at Coachlight bring home the nobility of founding a country on the idea of human freedom. You’ll likely not walk out dry-eyed.
Coachlight Musical Theater can be contacted at (800) 304-8588 or visited on the web at <www.coachlightmusicals.com>.