VENTURA COUNTY, Calif. – The songs are familiar and summer concerts in the ocean breeze are about as SoCal as you can get. But this venue is anything but typical.
“A concert on an outdoor stage to folks in cars," laughed Christian Hoff as he and Travis Cloer discussed their upcoming opening night.
Cloer and Hoff worked together in Jersey Boys on Broadway. Hoff was with the show even before that, when it started at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, where he grew up. He went on to win a Tony Award for his portrayal of Tommy DeVito.
Meanwhile Cloer holds a world record for the longest-running portrayal of the character of Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys history worldwide -- over 2,500 performances.
"So, lot of high notes," he joked.
These performers have been waiting in the wings since March when the pandemic closed theaters and performance venues. So when Hoff was approached to put together a set for the Rubicon Goes Retro Drive-in Theatre Concert Series, he jumped at the chance.
“Because we get to perform and do what we love to do and we haven’t been able to do that for too long," he said. "And we don’t know what the future will bring so if this is a stop gap and a new normal, we’ll take it.”
Karyl Lynn Burns will take it too. “Of course nothing beats the live experience of being in a theater," she admitted, "but I think this is the next closest thing.”
“We were driving by and he said, 'That’s it! That’s what we have to do,'" she recalled.
She says her team worked for eight weeks to put the series together, with safety being their top priority. People are asked to stay in their vehicles and music can be pumped in through the radio. Outside of cars, masks must be worn at all times and no concessions are sold on site but patrons can bring take out to enjoy during the show.”
“Or they can bring popcorn. It will be like a drive-in," Burns said. "They can bring their kids in their feetie pajamas.”
Cars are spaced apart around the stage, and on stage, the performers are spaced apart too.
“We had to keep six feet apart from each other at all times," Cloer explained, recalling some of the safety measures they agreed to follow. "We had to be temperature checked.”
Cloer can’t see the audience’s faces, and the honking of horns and flashing of headlights may not be the ovation he’s used to getting, but with all the differences, he says one thing hasn’t changed – the power of live music.
“It’s something that heals the soul, it heals the heart," he said. "Just to give people 75 minutes of a break from reality, I’m happy to be a part of that.”
A high note he thinks we can all use in the midst of a difficult year.
"Drive-in Hits" is the first of five concerts planned through September. Other concerts include "2 AM at the Sands: Samonsky Sings Sinatra," a 30th Anniversary Concert of Forever Plaid, Jimmy Messina and Friends and "Music of the Knights: The Songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Elton John and Paul McCartney."