SAN ANTONIO (April 24, 2015) -- The 2015 U.S. Army Soldier Show, "We Serve," pays tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Ia Drang Valley, one of the bloodiest conflicts in the Vietnam War.
The battle was documented in the book "We Were Soldiers Once … And Young," by retired Lt. Gen. Hal Moore and reporter Joe Galloway. In 2002, director Randall Wallace depicted the first part of the battle in the movie, "We Were Soldiers," starring Mel Gibson and Barry Pepper, playing the roles of Moore and Galloway, respectively.
Patrick Stephenson, an American Soldier in that battle, is the narrator of the 2015 "We Serve" Soldier Show.
"The underlying storyline is that [Stephenson's character] grandfather served in World War I. His dad served in World War II. He served in Vietnam. His son served in the first Gulf War, and he's got a grandson who's serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom," Soldier Show producer Tim Higdon said. "We acknowledge who he is as a real person, but he plays a character for the show, and the character is this 'Soldier for Life' veteran."
The show includes an introduction by Gibson. Stephenson helped Soldier Show artistic director Victor Hurtado persuade Gibson to add a taste of Hollywood to the Army Entertainment production.
"Mel is actually speaking about the men and women that were involved in the battle," Hurtado said. "As an actor in 'We Were Soldiers,' he knows them very well. The show calls attention to Patrick as himself, but once the show goes on, he represents all veterans.
"It's not a stretch to think his grandparents would have served in World War I, that his mother would have been a Rosie the Riveter, that his grandson could be serving in the Army now - what an amazing way to call attention to Vietnam vets and also make sense of him as a human being in the continuum of being an American."
The Soldier Show creative team had to incorporate many elements, including different styles of song and dance.
"This year was a particular challenge for us because it was one person's story, which we've never been able to do before," Soldier Show music director Joey Beebe said. "The narrator, the person the show is about, is on film the whole time and the cast is acting out their memories or their stories, so it allowed us to go in a linear direction with the show, which we've never done. So it was really weird for me to have the show move in that direction. We're usually just a little more scattered and bouncing around from place to place. This is real direct."
As always, the Soldier Show delivers song-and-dance entertainment from diverse cultures.
"Some of the songs that we tried to get in, and we made them work, we picked them because they're big, popular songs, like 'Uptown Funk' and 'Bang Bang' and 'Turn Down for What,'" Beebe said. "We even have some opera this year. It's been a long time since we've had somebody who could do that."
Amy Lynn Miles has choreographed every step of the Soldier Show since 2012. She appreciates the symmetry of this year's show.
"This show, as a whole, I really like the way that we have somebody telling, from start to end, the story," she said. "We're following a specific person throughout the whole show. Since I've been here, we've never done that before."
Celebrating a "Soldier for Life" and the 50th anniversary of a Vietnam War battle has expected moments of sadness, but the show also demonstrates Soldiers' resilience and readiness. It addresses important Army programs, such as Gold Star families, and sexual harassment and sexual assault response and prevention.
Hurtado was tasked to write the script with guidance to incorporate "We Serve" and "Soldier for Life" into the performance.
"We're actually covering the new initiative by the sergeant major of the Army: 'Not in my squad,'" Hurtado said. That initiative puts first-line leaders directly into the fight against sexual assault and sexual harassment."
The show also touches on recovery and what the Army does to help Soldiers transition from being wounded and returning to duty, joining the civilian workforce, or transitioning out of the Army into mainstream America.
"The show is entertaining, but it also is very message-driven," Hurtado said. "We want to make sure the audiences that we play for are actually absorbing the messaging while being inspired at the same time - and finding the meaning in the messaging, as well."
The "We Serve" show also delivers a powerful patriotic punch, a touch of cultural diversity, and a few modern chart-topping tunes.
"It's going to be a great show," Beebe said. "Come and watch."