By Eric Karas
Sentimental Journey: A Musical Tale of Love and War is Ross “Robby” Lehman’s show about his family’s history—specifically the experiences of his parents during WWII. It’s a one-man show featuring the well-known actor playing all of his family members, singing his parent’s favorite songs from the era, doing voice impersonations of characters from songs and even dancing a little.
He starts with a little interesting biographical information about his parents, who used to write a column together for a local newspaper in Pennsylvania. The articles share information about their lives, and Lehman combines these with his own memories and letters they wrote to each other. This full storytelling effect lets the audience know his parents from different perspectives—what he witnessed, what they said about themselves and what they said about each other. He also fills us in on the complicated history of his grandparents and their relationships which shows us a little of why his parents became the people they did.
Songs punctuating the show include standards most people know, like “For Me and My Gal,” on which Lehman lets the audience sing along with him, to more obscure songs. There are songs taught to his father overseas in the war, bar songs, a campy traditional song his mother sang as a cabaret singer, etc. It is not just the typical popular songs of the era, but of course “Sentimental Journey” is one of them. The songs are all chosen to speak to the story he’s telling and not arbitrary crowd-pleasers. More information on the production may be read here.
Perhaps the best thing about this show is its tender illustration of how courting was done in the era, with a nostalgic nod to how different men and women of the era behaved (or didn’t). Lehman’s tales of romance are sweet and at times unexpected. Then when the war happens, patrons are given real insight into its effects—the horrors of being in the war by his father and the utter sense of helplessness of the people at home from his mother. All of the war stories are evocative, touching the hearts of the audience. Then the story progresses to the cost of the war physically and emotionally; these details make the last years his parents spent together seem particularly poignant.
Lehman is an actor/performer who has been on Broadway and has numerous local theater credits. He has a confidence onstage and a fearlessness that allows him to go effortlessly from storytelling to singing to doing character voices to dancing. This is sentimental and moving without ever being syrupy or saccharine. He has done an excellent job of writing it in a way that is relatable but also uniquely his own. The Citadel theater is a small space and he’s literally talking right to the audience in front of him. Director Marco Lococo keeps things moving and utilizes the items decorating the set to good effect to tell the story.
By the time the show ends, audience members are moved by the experience and leave the theatre humming. This is definitely worth a trip up north to the Citadel Theater to see.
Citadel Theater presents “Sentimental Journey” through May 26th at the Citadel Theater 300 S. Waukegan Road, Lake Forest. More information and tickets are available here.