(Photo by Ed Krieger)
Written by Alina Mae Wilson
I recently went over to the Laguna Playhouse and saw King of the Road, the Roger Miller Story. Last week if someone asked me to tell them about Roger Miller, I might have responded he has a familiar name, and that would have been it. Since then I have been educated and can inform you that Roger Miller was a famous songwriter, musician, and actor. Although I can now spout a few soundbites about the man, I have not been transformed into a passionate fan nor have I been passionately enlightened. King of the Road tries to tell us Roger Miller’s story but its more successful at bombarding us with trivia instead of telling us (what should be) a rich and fulfilling story. Consider me educated –not moved.
King of the Road features a funny, charming, and seemingly quick-witted performer named Roger Miller as a popular television host. Together with the aid of his devoted band and back up singers, Miller holds all of America’s rapt attention. He has won Grammy Awards, and Elvis himself requests Miller’s autograph. Yet Miller is unhappy. Plagued by memories of his younger self, Miller turns to drugs and alcohol to sate his desires for self-fulfillment. We watch him go through wives, various gigs, and other moments of importance in his life.
For the first few minutes of Act 1 it appears we might just be sitting through a concert of Roger Miller’s greatest hits. The band is set up close to center stage, and the small sets designed to look like worldly living spaces (a kitchen and a makeup table) are set up so far to the side that, even if you see them in the beginning, the darkness might cause you to temporarily forget their existence and think you are just going to listen to a charming and presentable Jesse Johnson do his best Miller imitation. I am relieved to say this is not the case. No offense to Roger Miller, I am sure that he brought joy to a great many people, but I don’t find any of his old country songs that catchy or memorable. What is memorable the fact that Roger (Jesse Johnson) has several visitations/hallucinations involving his younger self (Braxton Baker). Johnson’s reactions at seeing his youthful doppelganger are just right –surprised without being excessively blown away. The acting between the men is good, but it isn’t enough to sell the weak plot points.
Roger Miller obviously had a complicated life filled with trials and tribulations, but King of the Road tries to throw every single one at you without detail or depth of thought. There is a lot of telling and not nearly enough showing. Roger is on drugs. Roger has problems with women. Roger is treating the people he works with poorly. Sure we see him popping pills and getting divorces, but we don’t see nearly enough insane behavior from him to warrant the harsh words people use when discussing him. Instead of seeing how and why he struggles, we are simple told he struggles, and that is presumed to be enough.
King of the Road is a lot of rushed exposition. It’s flashcards instead of a chapter book. If you are a Roger Miller fan, you should definitely make your way over to hear some good singing and old Miller jokes.
April 19th – May 14th 2017