Cabaret show extends Silk Road to Broadway / by R. Sheth

October 23, 2009
By Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic

Think of the Silk Road as the interstate highway system of the ancient world. An interconnected series of routes spanning 5,000 miles -- from China and India through Asia Minor and on to the Mediterranean -- these were the roads on which everything from textiles, spices, perfumes, jewels, ideas, technology, various diseases (and, yes, slaves, too) were transported for nearly 3,000 years. Primarily traveled by merchants, pilgrims, missionaries and soldiers, it's a good bet that artists also made their way along these often treacherous pathways.

The cellist Yo-Yo Ma has championed the music of this fabled route in his Silk Road Ensemble. But Chicago's Silk Road Theatre Project has made its mark by producing works for the stage that consider a far more contemporary notion of the Silk Road. And with its latest show, "Silk Road Cabaret: Broadway Sings the Silk Road," the company has hit on a truly inspired idea -- gathering a diverse cast to sing songs from hit musicals that, when grouped together, traverse much of the Silk Road route.

"The composers and lyricists who wrote these songs [including everyone from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Frank Loesser, Maury Yeston, Adam Guettel, and Schonberg and Boublil] were not of Silk Road backgrounds," said Jamil Khoury, artistic director of the Silk Road Theatre Project and "curator" of this show. "But for millions of Americans they created what became iconic representations of Silk Road peoples -- whether historical reality or whimsical fantasy, cultural authenticity or crude caricature."

The cast of six will wear street clothes, and each performer has selected songs with a particular personal resonance, drawing on everything from "Miss Saigon" and "Bombay Dreams" to "The King and I," "Kismet" and "Pacific Overtures." I'm particularly looking forward to a song titled "Imelda Marcos Shoes Mystique," from "Imelda," a little known 2005 musical.