For Road Trip, the Congressional Chorus’ 11th annual cabaret, 80 singers, a 20-member specialty dance troupe, and a rockin’ seven-piece band will travel the nation and feature songs that signify a particular city or place.
This year’s concert is very different than anything the Chorus has ever done before. “We have a smorgasbord of music from around the country,” David Simmons, artistic director for the Congressional Chorus, says of the company founded in 1987. “In one show you will get jazz from New Orleans of the ’20s, Motown from Detroit, soul from Memphis, beach music from California, Gloria Estefan and the Sound Machine from Florida and much more.”
Road Trip! Tour the USA, will be performed March 16 through March 19 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Concerts are 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 4 p.m. on Sunday.
Songs will be as old as the mid-19th century’s “My Old Kentucky Home” and as new as “My Shot” from the Tony-award winning production of Hamilton. For the latter tune, Simmons says to expect a much more bombastic version than people are used to, as there will be 80 people singing as opposed to the 25 from the Broadway show.
“It’s such a broad stretch timeline and broad stretch as far as the genre goes,” he says. “It’s light hearted, and up-tempo and with all that’s going on in the world today, it can help people forget for a little while and take a mini vacation.”
The music will begin and end in D.C., with a beginning performance of “Ease on Down the Road” from The Wiz, which will invite the residents of the District to join the chorus on their journey across America; and it will end with D.C,’s own Marvin Gaye’s “Dancing in the Street.”
Other songs scheduled include Ray Charles’ “Georgia On My Mind”; “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas; “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn; “Conga” by Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine; and a latino-rock arrangement of “California Dreamin,’” made famous by The Mamas & The Papas.
Simmons will provide narration between pieces about each song as well as the context to the area it represents. Additionally, the program booklet contains state facts and historical notes on national and international events that influenced the song creation.
It takes many artists, in addition to the 100-plus performers, to put on a Congressional Chorus production year after year.
Set and graphic designer Greg Barton describes the concert as being “connected” and “diversely united.” He noted there are unique challenges when working with such a large troupe of performers in a box theater with a totally full, packed-to-the-rafters house.
“We live in a country that is wide and open so we’ve immersed the theater with states: big states, small ones, all recognizable and they encircle everyone on stage and in the audience,” he says. “The audience is part of the production’s space. Though the states float all around on a black background, we show our connection to each with a big map pin (imagine four-square balls on a stick). Then we connect each state from one side of the theater to the other.”
This is done through the utilization of black and yellow dashed cords that crisscross the Atlas’ Paul Sprenger Theatre, connecting everything, to everyone else, representing a web of history, fun, and family.
“My trend is to be minimal but smart, while avoiding the twee. I want to stick to the theme in every element,” Barton says. “I use very, very flat but hi-def printing on huge foam core panels. No matter how big a set piece, the image is printed perfectly crisp. This starts with the publicity sidewalk posters, postcards, banners and set pieces.”
Lead choreographer Joshua Chambers has always had a special place in his heart for cabaret and is looking forward to helping make this event even more special than usual.
“I stamp things by truly meditating on movement that will bring any given number its life,” he says. “I like to find juxtaposing themes and a lot of inter-dancer play/shtick to bring a number to life. I always strive to do something not seen yet, at least on the Atlas stage. I want an audience member to leave smiling and thoroughly entertained.”
Marianne Meadows will serve as lighting director for the show and explains that each piece in the show requires something different from a lighting standpoint, be it a different color or texture to complement the tenor of the song, or just one singer with a follow spot.
“The song tells me what to do. My job is to support the emotional arc of the evening,” she says. “This is at its heart, a feel good evening. There will be some toe tapping, some singing along to the annoyance of the audience member next to you, some wistful moments, maybe an exploration of a little heartbreak, but mostly we want the audience to leave happier than when they came.”
Road Trip tickets are $50 for general admission. Reserved tables of six are available from $362 to $562.
Details and tickets