Joanna Syiek

Joanna Syiek

On Reaching Rock City and Other Destinations

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Rhys Gilyeat (front) with Kristofer Sundquist, Emily Arkuss, Steve Greene, Katharine Kelly McDonough and Courtney C. Reed, in “See Rock City and Other Destinations.” Photo by Lyssa Samuel.

How many of your travel dreams are made up of ideas promised in advertisements or pages ripped from magazines and filed away for another day?

I spent a year feeling stationary, so when the top of 2012 rolled around, I vowed to make it a year of travel.  The year of journeying brought me to nearby destinations, natural wonders, and halfway across the world to visit friends. Each trip was eye-opening in its own way, but by the end of the year it became increasingly apparent that it was more important to have a traveler’s spirit than to have every city ticked off a personal check list. For a traveler’s mind is one that never tires of asking new questions, or seeking out the life-affirming experiences regardless of coordinates.

Joanna Syiek. Photo by Tracey Slonim.

When first delving into See Rock City and Other Destinations, Color and Light Theatre Ensemble and I found that, similarly, the show was about much more than the act of traveling itself.

See Rock City and Other Destinations is a contemporary musical about connections missed and made at tourist destinations across America. The show threads together vignettes, creating a feeling that it’s half song cycle, half traditional book musical. Instead of wandering about, the show drops you into the middle of an action, a relationship, and whisks you away before the promise of a tidy, happy ending — a comforting notion considering that the structure mirrors life itself. So many of us pin the promise of happiness on a future date. See Rock City and Other Destinations helps us to realize what happens when these expectations bump up against reality.

At once witty and heartwarming, the show offers no caricatures, no jazz hands, just people whose stories are worth telling. From a wanderer who thinks a road trip may lead him to his destiny to a group of sisters learning how to say goodbye in Glacier Bay, the characters on the page are like real people each of us has known. The show jumps from Rock City to Coney Island, the Alamo to Niagara Falls, but in discovering the characters it becomes more and more apparent how these are everyone’s stories.  The cast easily found a piece of themselves in the interactions and relationships established in the show.

Steve Greene, Courtney C. Reed and Caleb Mills Stewart.

In conversations with the composer, Brad Alexander, we discovered that the main takeaway of the show is moving past your expectations in order to connect. The musical revolves around those two ideas: expectations and connections. He noted his love for the fact that “tourist destinations are all about expectations — what we expected from them and what we remember about them.” Returning to a favorite place from childhood may require the confrontation of nostalgia with the fact that it is a lot smaller than you remember it. Re-igniting an old flame may help you realize why the affair ended in the first place.

Alexander’s score also packs a punch vocally and emotionally, as we learned through the rehearsal process. Whether belting or blending seven-part harmony, the ensemble took on the challenge of making each story-based song as honest and touching as intended. Brad, who recently provided a master class for the cast, gave his seal of approval on the work and said “the cast is astonishing.”

Kristofer Sundquist

The musical gives us a rare and wonderful opportunity to travel as a group together, without ever leaving Los Angeles. Like the characters in the show, we become united in our journeys toward destinations, both real and imagined. It’s a fitting journey for Color and Light Theatre Ensemble, which is committed to performing contemporary works that allow us to better examine the world in which we live. Theater was made to transport us — what better way than with this road trip?

See Rock City and Other Destinations, Santa Monica Little Theatre, 12420 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, 90025. Sat 8 pm and Sun 5 pm. Through March 24. Tickets: $20. www.colorandlighttheatre.org. 310-622-4482.

***All See Rock City and Other Destinations production photos by Lyssa Samuel

Joanna Syiek directs this production of See Rock City and Other Destinations and is the artistic director of Color and Light Theatre Ensemble. She also works with fellow Los Angeles theater makers including the Odyssey Theatre, Santa Monica Rep and Antaeus Company. Past directing credits include Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, The Glorious Ones, Company and “¦tick, tick, BOOM! Her next directing project will be bringing the new work, The Pokémusical, to the Hollywood Fringe Festival this summer.