From “New York, New York” to “California, Here I Come,” with lots of stops in between, the MPB Community Players of Hazleton are singing and dancing their way across the United States.
“We are following a map, starting in New York City. We throw in a couple of jokes now and then and go all the way across the country to California,” said Judiann McGrogan, who is directing the group’s production of “Road Trip USA” this weekend at Trinity Lutheran Church in Hazleton.
After a brief, imaginary jaunt to Hawaii, the cast works its way back eastward by taking a southern route and showcasing such tunes as “Yellow Rose of Texas,” “Oklahoma” and “Sweet Home Alabama.”
“It’s been great to see the cast become familiar with everything from the modern music the young kids know to classic standards that some of the older folks know,” McGrogan said.
The music they’re singing has roots in such diverse sources as 19th-century Colonial Texas, 20th-century Broadway and the rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd circa 1974. And don’t forget that folksy balladeer of the ’70s, John Denver.
“We’re using two of his songs,” McGrogan said, naming “Rocky Mountain High,” which mentions Colorado, and “Country Roads,” which describes West Virginia as “almost heaven.”
For some regions of the country, the director said, it was easy to find representative songs. Consider The Golden State, for which McGrogan and a musical committee came up with “California Girls,” “Do You Know the Way the San Jose?” “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” “Little Old Lady from Pasadena” and more.
Other locations, including New England, required a longer search, McGrogan said, but “We actually found a song called ‘Moonlight in Vermont,’ and we’re adding the theme song from ‘Cheers,’ because that show was set in Boston.”
Pennsylvania is represented by the songs “Allentown,” “Philadelphia Freedom” and the “Pennsylvania Polka,” while neighboring Maryland offers a chance to sing “Good Morning, Baltimore” from the musical “Hairspray.”
Altogether, the show incorporates portions of about 67 songs. “We cut them to make it a little shorter,” McGrogan said, explaining the production includes solos and small-group numbers as well as pieces by the entire 43-person ensemble.
Music director Sandra Hoppey arranged the music for the cast, which consists of members of the MPB Community Players’youth company, junior company and adult company. Ages range from about 6 to 81.
In recent years, various pollsters have decried a kind of “geographical illiteracy,” with National Geographic magazine reporting on its website that, in the results of one survey, “a third of the respondents could not find Louisiana and 48 percent couldn’t locate Mississippi on a map of the United States, even though Hurricane Katrina put these southeastern states in the spotlight in 2005.”
But the MPB Community Players are doing their part to make people more aware, and many of them had a leg up on geography before they became involved with “Road Trip USA.”
“We have one song called ‘Fifty Nifty United States’ that names every state in the country,” McGrogan said. “A lot of the teenagers and young adults knew it already because it was something that was taught by their teachers.”