On stage

Festival Express
by John Shortino
Hatchet Arts Reporter

In 1970, the “Festival Express Tour” rolled across Canada. Along for the ride were legendary bands and artists such as the Grateful Dead, the Band and Janis Joplin. A crew of cameramen, which until recently remained mostly unknown, captured tour moments both on train and on stage. Now, almost 35 years later, the Festival Express has arrived for a generation that may not realize how amazing it was.

Being born in the 1980s, it is difficult not to view the new documentary “Festival Express” with a certain amount of envy toward the amazing music of the ’70s. Concerts and exchanges on the long train ride carry a feeling of camaraderie and genuine friendship among artists in footage that is nowhere to be found today. The film captures artists at moments that defined them – playing together in impromptu, continuous jam sessions that last from one concert location to another. The concert footage itself is spectacular, showcasing full songs by each of the artists.

Throughout the film, there are interviews about the tour (most notably about how it was a financial disaster, but a great time), but I don’t believe that anyone would leave the theater with these zin mind. The real strength of “Festival Express” lies in the footage of musicians creating sounds that defined an era. If you are a fan of any of the bands involved (and there are a number of others, including The Flying Burrito Brothers, Buddy Guy and Sha Na Na), see this film.

One Red Flower
by Maura Judkis
Contributing Editor

“I’m a soldier in an age where soldiers aren’t in fashion,” laments one character in Signature Theatre’s first offering of the season. The new musical, One Red Flower, which was inspired by the book “Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam” echoes both current political sentiment and personal stories from Vietnam.

Emmy-winner Paris Barclay (Director of “NYPD Blue,” “ER” and “The West Wing”), who developed both the script and score, was careful to retain the original words written in the soldiers’ letters home. In fact, much of the music, set to the tune of ’60s Rock’n’Roll, is simply soldiers reading their hopes and fears written to parents and girlfriends.

Throughout the musical, viewers watch the fates of several soldiers unfold. We learn of Billy (Stephen Gregory Smith), an army clerk who later regrets his desire to be promoted because it forces him to participate in combat. First Lieutenant Kenny Rutherford (Clifton Duncan), who is in charge of a brigade, astonishes his men when, as an African-American, he can receive the award of the Silver Star.

Despite the set’s seeming simplicity, it is exceptionally well designed, with set designer Eric Grims creating a haunting recreation of the Vietnam Wall at the play’s conclusion.

Taking into account the approaching election season and the comparisons often drawn between Vietnam and the current Iraqi war, “One Red Flower” is no-doubt a timely debut. When one soldier writes a letter to his parents about his horror in witnessing torture methods for the enemy soldiers, it is easy to imagine a similar letter being written by some of the soldiers stationed near Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The play can be viewed from two political perspectives, both applicable to current events: On one side is Marion, a medic who wastes no opportunity to question motives and dispute any reason for U.S. involvement in Vietnam. He portrays a steadfast anti-war stance, asking, “Why do we have to die for the sake of the silly games politicians play?” and frequently writes letters to the parents of soldiers who have perished, telling them the heroic details of their sons’ deaths. On the opposite side is George, a Southern Republican who never questions the war and compares killing the Vietnamese to going hunting.

Regardless of which side viewers take, the overall message the musical attempts to convey is that Americans should still support their troops, no matter the political situation at home. One Red Flower effectively portrays the duality of soldiers’ optimism and fear.

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