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Life-changing travels in ‘See Rock City’

- Associated Press - Monday, July 26, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - "It's not what I expected," is one of the recurring lines in the inventive "musical travelogue," the Transport Group's creative production of "'See Rock City & Other Destinations."

The Duke on 42d Street is altered for the outing by the informal seating of the audience all around the periphery, in beach chairs or on blankets on the floor.

The story line follows several groups of people on separate excursions to popular American tourist locations. Adam Mathias' book and lyrics, combined with Brad Alexander's music, set out to prove that some people can be changed by even the most random experiences.

Common themes are woven throughout, including miscommunication, uncertainty and loneliness, and summoning the courage to try something new. Some of the story arcs are predictable, yet the projection-free vignettes are delightfully performed by the talented cast, staged in unusual ways by director Jack Cummings III.

A young couple, Dodi and Jess, charmingly portrayed by Mamie Parris and Bryce Ryness, meet at a diner and set off together to see Rock City, advertised on barns as the "answer to every prayer." Longtime roamer Jess hopes that this trip might be the end of his travels, while waitress Dodi is delighted because for the first time in her small-town life, there's "no end in sight." They sing a lovely duet, "Mile After Mile," where the same words cleverly hold opposite meaning for each.

At the Alamo in Texas, a still-single schoolteacher, Lauren (an endearing performance by Sally Wilfert), brings her wheelchair-bound grandfather (Ryan Hilliard) to a spot where he happily believes he sees his deceased wife. As Lauren defiantly tries to reassure 'Grampy' that she's going to be OK without a man in her life, along comes Jonathan Hammond as awkward Dempsey, a local lawyer. Lauren impulsively chats him up, while Hilliard sings a poignant song about remembrance of a lifetime of love.

Some vignettes are more successful than others, though all encompass some lovely ballads. In an amusing but unnecessary segment, an alien-obsessed misfit (Stanley Bahorek) waits in the dark in a field near Roswell, N.M., hoping to greet the space travelers that he is certain are coming to Earth.

A different type of trip is enacted by Bahorek and Ryness as two boisterous teenage boys, with Ryness as a bit of a bully. Their athletically choreographed interactions take them through unexpected terrain at New York City's Coney Island.

Three humorously squabbling sisters (Donna Lynne Champlin, Parris and Wilfert) try to toss their dead father's ashes over a cruise ship railing in Glacier Bay, Alaska. They set aside their quarrels long enough to harmonize beautifully on a charming childhood song, "Three Fair Queens of the North Are We."

Taking the "leap of faith" theme to its utmost literal intepretation, the final sequence features a nervous bride (Champlin, delightfully edgy) at Niagara Falls, lured away from her wedding by a sinister Tour Guide (Hammond). They sing powerful duets as Hammond, darkly menacing, urges the bride to go over the waterfalls in a barrel at Lovers' Leap.

Special credit must go to R. Lee Kennedy's lighting design, which enables the audience to feel they've glimpsed multiple places without ever leaving the beach chairs. While these pilgrims' progress is not quite the stuff of epics, "See Rock City ..." is still an enjoyable, light musical jaunt.

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