Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Light Years
Signature Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of Noura, Handbagged, Familiar, Aubergine, and The Great Society

John Sygar, Luke Smith, and Robbie Schaefer
Photo by Christopher Mueller
Where singer-songwriters of the 1960s and '70s created suites of songs for their recordings, their successors have learned how to blend their personal stories with elements of musical theater. Light Years, the impressionistic folk-rock musical receiving its world premiere production at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, follows a trail blazed by Stew and Heidi Rodewald's Passing Strange and Benjamin Scheuer's The Lion.

Robbie Schaefer, guitarist and songwriter for the band Eddie from Ohio, began with songs and stories about the bond between himself and his father and, with the help of director Eric Schaeffer, has created a 90-minute work (book, music, and lyrics) that blends dialogue and musical scenes with a concert-like staging. The actors spend most of the run time onstage; some of them play their own instruments, supported by a violinist, keyboardist, and drummer.

Rather than following a linear plot, Light Years wanders through the life experiences of Robbie, represented at three ages: John Sygar as a child, Luke Smith as a young adult, and Schaefer himself in the present. Bobby Smith gives another heart-melting performance as Robbie's father Konnie, a loving father who does his best to keep the pain of his own life away from his son.

The musical is built out of small moments, starting with Robbie as a small child, making music by banging on pans with a wooden spoon and later asking his father to buy him a guitar. Robbie learns about the world as his father takes jobs in India and Switzerland. In his teens, Robbie introduces his father to the constellations and the observation that the stars we see are so far away, they may have been dead for millions of years. Robbie sees the woman of his dreams (Natascia Diaz) from the stage as he performs. Robbie tries to balance his career as a touring musician with the realities of a wife and children. And, eventually, Robbie realizes that his father is getting old and slipping into dementia.

The director also created the scenic design in the MAX Theatre, which consists of a single door upstage center and a row of screens above the area where the musicians and actors perform. Chris Lee's lighting design emphasizes the theatrical with jolts of light from the rear of the stage, while Mark Costello and Zachary G. Borovay have created a video design that encompasses news footage, scene-setting images, and even some home movies.

Signature Theatre
Light Years
February 6th - March 4th, 2018
Book, music & lyrics by Robbie Schaefer
Konnie: Bobby Smith
Robbie: Robbie Schaefer
Young Robbie: John Sygar
Middle Robbie: Luke Smith
Chantelle/Annie: Natascia Diaz
Soma/Amelia: Kara-Tameika Watkins
Directed by Eric Schaeffer
Choreography by Kelly Crandall D'Amboise
Music direction by David Holcenberg
MAX Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or