|By Tim Hipps
IMCOM Public Affairs
SAN ANTONIO – Active-duty Soldiers bring the emotional, mental, physical, spiritual and family pillars of military life to the stage in “Army Strong,” the 2012 U.S. Army Soldier Show.
Spc. Julio Petersen III of Fort Meade, Md., leads U.S. Army Soldier Show perfomers in a high-kicking rendition of "Footloose" during rehearsals at Fort Sam Houston Theatre in San Antonio. Petersen, a native of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, is making his second tour with the Soldier Show. U.S. Army photo by Tim Hipps, IMCOM Public Affairs
“Every section of the show has something to do with strength in one of those areas,” production manager and producer Tim Higdon said.
The 90-minute song-and-dance production is designed to accentuate the strengths and resiliency of Soldiers and military Families through modern songs, current hits, vibrant costuming, exciting choreography and spectacular visuals.
“That is in line with the chief of staff’s motto for this year, which is, ‘The strength of our nation is our Army, the strength of our Army is our Soldiers, the strength of our Soldiers is our Families, and that’s what makes us Army Strong,” Higdon said. “So the show is designed to follow that theme, and to highlight the strength aspect all the way through.”
Soldiers will attempt to sing and dance their way into the audiences’ heart, mind and soul. “Entertainment for the Soldier, by the Soldier,” is the working motto of the U.S. Army Soldier Show, which is designed to deliver a positive message to the troops.
“It’s all about ‘Army Strong – Hooah!’ So we’re moving out and doing that,” Higdon said.
The 2012 edition unveils a state-of-the-art, high-resolution LED video wall – 13 feet tall by 28 feet wide – featuring photographs of Army life on a virtual backdrop revolving from scene to scene and song to song.
“It’s going to be a very visual show – very current, very modern,” Higdon said. “We’re excited about that new aspect of the show. The incorporation of that LED technology is going to make the show move forward with a very modern and relevant presentation.”
Army Reserve Sgt. Melissa Neal, winner of the 2011 Operation Rising Star military singing contest, will make a taped appearance. The Soldier Show cast will join Neal’s video backdrop to sing “Hallelujah,” which she performed during Operation Rising Star finals week in San Antonio and later recorded at EMI Music’s Capitol Records Studios in Hollywood.
“It’s kind of magical,” said Soldier Show artistic director Victor Hurtado, who worked all three projects with Neal.
As always, sections of the show are dedicated to legends of the entertainment industry, such as Etta James. Another blast into the past features a segment accentuating musical eras of the 1920s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, capped with the Rolling Stones’ classic “Satisfaction.”
“The motivation for that was ‘Moves like Jagger,’” Hurtado said. “We love that song.” That tune is by Maroon 5, featuring Christina Aguilera.
The theme of this season’s Soldier Show evolved from the meeting of many minds at the U.S. Army Installation Management Command. Lt. Gen. Michael Ferriter, commander of IMCOM, stressed the importance of expressing the warrior ethos, which proclaims that no challenge is too large to conquer.
“Everything in the show really speaks to resiliency, being able to adapt and overcome,” Higdon said. “Resiliency really is that mental part, being able to put things in a perspective which allows you to continue to continue to move forward – that you never come up against a challenge that you can’t overcome.”
“Putting the show together has gone from hard to simply difficult,” said Hurtado, a 26-year Soldier Show veteran and 12-time director. “The show came from many, many briefings, and all of these things are always in the back of my mind. … But the end result is Soldiers’ lives are illustrated within the show in a really cool way.”
For example, strength is personified by Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be.” Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory” is dedicated to the Soldier-athletes in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program training for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, along with Soldiers who participate in All-Army Sports, post intramurals and daily physical fitness drills.
Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time” honors the late songstress and significant events in U.S. Army history.
Lady Gaga scores again with “Marry the Night,” which illustrates Soldiers’ resilience, complete with a night vision sequence.
Hurtado did not reveal too much prior to the opening. He would rather have droves of entertainment aficionados see and hear the U.S. Army Soldier Show, the marquee event of Army Entertainment, than read about it.
“I have to say the talent is exceptional,” Hurtado said. “They really pick up and they really deliver.”
New Soldier Show choreographer Amy Lynn Miles, who recently toured with Ricky Martin, brings another perspective to the troops.
“She can dance a little,” Hurtado deadpanned. “She’s only 23, but she’s very disciplined, and she takes charge. She earned their respect very quickly – within minutes, I would say.”
Two members of the cast might look familiar to fans of Army Entertainment productions. Army Reserve Spc. Julio Petersen III of Fort Meade, Md., returns from the 2009 U.S. Army Soldier Show, and Sgt. Jon Whittle of Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., was a 2011 Operation Rising Star finalist.
“Now that Whittle is with professionals every day, working on his instrument, his voice, you’re not even going to recognize him,” Hurtado said. “Whittle has become an artist; he really has.”
The show features a lot of spoken word, much of which was written by the Soldiers, particularly Pfc. Christopher Roman of Fort Drum, N.Y., Pfc. Raymond McKnight Jr. of Fort Benning, Ga., and Spc. Kayonnia Crowder of Fort Carson, Colo.
Harmonicist Spc. Franz Fabricante of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, is a master of beatboxing, a form of vocal percussion that primarily involves the art of producing drum beats, rhythm and musical sounds using his mouth, lips, tongue and voice.
“He’s a great beatboxer,” Hurtado said. “He can beatbox and play harmonica at the same time, which may show up in the Etta James section. He’s just a breath of fresh air.”
The show will open with 7 p.m. performances April 19, 20 and 21 at the newly renovated historic Fort Sam Houston Theatre, new home of Army Entertainment Division.
The troops then will embark on a five-month tour to perform at least 60 shows in at least 31 venues, including a Pacific journey to Hawaii and Japan.
Army Entertainment Division relocated in 2011 from Fort Belvoir, Va., to Fort Sam Houston as part of the Army’s Base Realignment and Closure. AED’s new home is the historic Fort Sam Houston Theatre, following a $17-million renovation and expansion project of the Army’s second-oldest movie theater, built in the 1930s.
“We gave it a reason to re-exist,” Hurtado said.
One goal of the U.S. Army Soldier Show is to promote resiliency by giving fellow troops an opportunity to unwind, relax and re-evaluate the world in which they live, along with the way of life that they defend. And how they do it: Army Strong.