FORT LEE, Va. (July 3, 2014) -- More than 3,000 Soldiers and several hundred spectators from the local community attended the June 26 U.S. Army Soldier Show performance at Williams Stadium. The outdoor event was one of only three scheduled for the entire 2014 “Standing Strong” tour, which continues through September and includes nearly 60 stops at military installations throughout the country.
The 80-minute production features music, dancing, special lighting effects and a cast of talented Soldiers, both active duty and reserve, from every corner of the nation and several military bases overseas.
The 2014 show weaves physical readiness training, the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, sponsorship, ceremonial drill, and even the loss of a Soldier and suicide prevention into the script.
“The entire show, artistically, is reinforcing Army messaging,” said artistic director Victor Hurtado. “Social media and (mass) media are not the only ways to deliver those messages – you also need that human factor.”
Building emotion with creative scripting and powerful vocal performances – crafted by Music Director Joey Bebe, Choral Master Vicki Golding and Sound Designer Blair Ferrier – the show explores issues like the loss of a loved one in combat and attempted suicide. The sets and lighting designed by Nicole Coppinger and Paul Turner, and the choreography by Amy Lynn Miles, are key to keeping the audience engaged.
For example, in one scene the lighting creates a stark, black and white feel to the set while Spc. Abighail Mary of Camp Humphreys, South Korea, and Pfc. Bryan McNeill of Fort Campbell, Ky., sing A Great Big World's “Say Something” as they literally catch Spc. Enjolee Williams, a Texas National Guard Soldier, as she tries to throw herself off the stage.
“I had to make suicide accessible and cinematic and build that story and cause that angst,” Hurtado said. “It looks like she's out of it, and she is; she’s just not thinking clearly. We go from that to all the things that can help. Her friends catch her in time.”
The show then brings the audience back up as Williams and her cohorts build from Kelly Clarkson’s “People Like Us” to a crescendo with Yolanda Adams’ “Still I Rise” that brought many in the Fort Lee audience to their feet.
Spc. Diquan Sims of Fort Bragg then leads almost the entire cast in “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, restoring a sense of levity and joy to the production.
There is a nod to younger children in the audience, as well, with a short scene based on the recent Lego’s movie. The diversity of music is also reflected in a medley of nine songs ranging from “Over the Rainbow,” which debuted at the start of World War II, to the 2001 Daryl Worley hit “Have You Forgotten?”
Sgt. Amy E. Hargis of Fort Bragg, N.C., caps off the show by treating the audience to verses of the “Defence of Fort M'Henry,” written by Francis Scott Key 200 years ago. Then, all 18 cast members take the stage to perform a choral version of the “Star-Spangled Banner” – which drew a hearty round of applause and several appreciative shouts of “hooah” among the Fort Lee audience.
Most cast members say they’re not surprised by how emotionally invested the audience has become at each of the show’s performances. “This year, I feel like it’s more connected to what the Army is all about,” said Williams who was also a member of the 2011 troupe. “The entire show is about the Soldier, his family at home, and the Army Family. It’s real to the audience.”