Soldier Show receives standing ovations in Kansas
September 9, 2011
MANHATTAN, Kan. -- For two nights, Aug. 23 and 24, crowds at McCain Auditorium on the Kansas State University campus, Manhattan, were on their feet while watching a fast-paced, 90-minute live musical production of the 28th annual Soldier Show.
Entertaining about 1,600 people in attendance, the carnival-themed production offered an array of international music from Samoa, Africa, Nepal, Latin America, India, Thailand and China.
Classics like "Stormy Weather" were performed, but there also were renditions of current pop music hits like the Black Eyed Peas' "Imma Be," Katy Perry's "California Girls," Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance," and Keri Hilson's "Pretty Girl Rock."
Country, gospel and traditional American patriotic music also were highlighted during the show, with a total of about 40 songs performed by Soldiers.
"Remember, this is your Army, and this is how capable they really are," said Maj. Gen. Paul Funk, 1st Infantry Division deputy commanding general for maneuver.
Ed Klimek, former Manhattan mayor, said he and his Family attend the Soldier Show every year.
"Everyone should go to this show," he said. "This is an annual retreat for our Family. The Soldiers do a great job of this."
Pfc. Diego Salgado, 172nd Chemical Company, 541st Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 1st Sustainment Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, said he was equally impressed.
"It was amazing. I have never seen the Soldiers doing that before. This was my first time. It just blew my mind. It was wonderful," Salgado said.
Karen Pearson, Junction City, shared Salgado's sentiments.
"I thought it was wonderful. I had tears in my eyes. Everybody did a beautiful job," Pearson said.
"I wish my dad could have been in the show," added Pearson's grandson, Jordan, 9, from Virginia, whose father is deployed to Afghanistan.
Jordan's cousin, Grace, 10, whose father is deployed to Iraq, said she also loved the show.
Darla Cobb, a veterinarian who works at Fort Riley, said the show was "beautiful."
"It was exciting -- so much talent. It was beautiful. Very touching," she said.
Angela Stanley of Georgia said the Soldiers were sincere, compassionate and passionate.
"I was very touched, very impressed. It was so heartfelt. I loved how cultural -- how diverse it was," she said.
"The show was a great showcase of Soldier talent," said Master Sgt. Andre James, 3rd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Inf. Div. "I was proud of their accomplishments up on the stage as well as in the back."
The show was performed by a cast of 20 Soldiers and supported by four Soldier technicians from around the world. The cast was selected in February, said 1st Sgt. Cynthia Turner, noncommissioned officer in charge.
"The cast forms close bonds. They make close friends, and then keep in touch," she said.
The cast is together for nine months, which includes many 12- to 16-hour practice days before the tour begins. The tour has already visited Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, and just came from Alaska, Turner said.
Two of the performers, including Pfc. Erik Tue, sang solos for a presidential audience and received coins Aug. 30. A VIP show will be Oct. 1. The group will travel to Korea and end its tour in Fort Sam Houston, Texas, in December, Turner said.
"We performed next to a NATO village, and all of the people from a wedding came to the show the next day," Turner said. "There is also a nonmilitary retired couple who follows our bus to all our shows."
Over the course of the tour, the cast handles more than 1 million pounds of electrical, sound, stage and lighting gear, according to the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation. During the tour, the Soldiers build and break down the set numerous times.
Initially, building the set took seven hours, but now it takes about three to four hours, Turner said. Tearing down the set also takes about three to four hours, she said. Additionally, the performers still rehearse about three hours per day.
In addition to ongoing rehearsals and touring, the Soldiers are still responsible for doing physical training, Turner said.
"They did extremely well on the (physical training) test in June, and cast members now train on their own," she said. "They do some pilates during run-throughs and blocking, during rehearsals."
The cast travels in a tour bus and a 15-passenger van, Turner said. Army regulations limit the group to 500 miles a day travel time, so often times the performers stay on the respective posts on the tour or sleep in hotels, she said, taking advantage of whatever the area has to offer.
Several cast members said they like being in the Soldier Show because they enjoy performing, but they also enjoy meeting audience members in the receiving line after the show and signing autographs.
"Performing and seeing the people -- shaking hands," was what cast member Sgt. Jeremy Wesby of Virginia, but lives in Texas, said he enjoyed the most about being in the show.
"I love performing, but I love meeting people -- the reactions in the line," added Tue, who is from Utah, but spent most of his life on the islands of American Samoa.
Sgt. Emily McAlessejergins, originally from Nashville, but lives in Kentucky, said she likes the feeling of being appreciated.
"Seeing people cry sometimes -- it makes a difference. (The receiving line) -- meeting the appreciative people, the women whose husbands are deployed," she said.
Similarly, Spc. Neasha Powell, stationed in Korea and from Louisiana, said she also enjoys meeting the Family members after the shows, while Sgt. Nesstor Delica Jr., from Wisconsin, but who lives in Georgia, said he enjoys being able to set a positive example for Soldiers and Families, as well as see the smiling faces in the receiving line after the show.
"I get to express my passion. I love to dance and sing. The 90 minutes are the best," added Pvt. Sandra Ayinbode of Texas, but who lives in Germany. "I really appreciate all of the people coming through (the line)."
Cpl. Jeremy Gaynor, production assistant and second-year cast member, said the cast members try to give something new every night.
Following both shows, the cast formed receiving lines in the lobby of McCain Auditorium to meet and shake hands with audience members.
On the second night, Soldier Show members and Brig. Gen. Donald MacWillie, 1st Inf. Div. deputy commanding general for support, exchanged plaques on stage. MacWillie also presented each cast member with a 1st Inf. Div. coin following the show. Refreshments, including a sheet cake boasting a Soldier Show graphic, were served.
By the end of the tour, the cast will have completed 106 performances and visited 61 installations, garrisons and other sites.