BWW Reviews: Choo-Choo, Boogie-Woogie, and She-Bop - Infinity Theatre's SISTERS OF SWING
How many people realize that one of America's greatest musical sweethearts, who serenaded World War II war heroes and America's small towns with Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy, was treated for swallowing 18 sleeping pills in a near-death overdose? Or that each of the Andrews sisters suffered their way through difficult and emotional divorces during a time when divorce was often not discussed? Infinity Theatre's current production of Sisters of Swing brings to light these lesser known facts about the belovEd Andrews sisters, all while these three early American idols choo-choo, she-bob, and ring-a-ring their way through one of the most classic and memorable eras of music.
The younger generations of today, who barely recognize Michael Jackson, certainly know very little (if any) of the Andrews Sisters. LaVerne (played by Lynsey Buckelew), Patty (played by Julia Burrows), and Maxene (played by Jackie Washam), became an overnight singing sensation and crooned their way into the hearts of Americans with such hits as "Choo-Choo to Broadway", "Hold Tight", and the "Beer Barrel Polka."
Infinity's production takes audience members through the major highs and lows of the gradual success of the Andrews sisters, yet the main focus is on key musical numbers from different points during the Andrews' career. While audience members certainly learn some interesting details about the individual (and combined) lives of the sisters, we are left at the end with a sense that we still don't truly know the sisters. The story line has exponential potential, the songs are clearly first-rate, but we need a bit more dialogue to truly understand these memorable ladies and to better relate to their lives, successes, and failures. These women are iconic, and we want to become familiar with more than just their stage presence.
Steve Gagliastro, who plays too many characters to count at different points throughout the sisters's career, does a phenomenal job throughout the production and solidly delivers in each of his roles. He single-handedly carries many of the more humorous portions of the show, and the audience seems to fall in love with his tenacity to perform each rule in an equally impressive manner, as with his character portrayals.
Sisters of Swing is based on music - great music - and the musical contributors to the show deserve extensive accolades and praise. Mike Ranelli (percussion) and Daniel Hall (bass) in particular carry each note for a long-list of musical hits perfectly. Their passion for music is very much apparent in their energetic and inspiring renditions. They make it easy for Buckelew, Burrows, and Washam, equally as talented, to truly elicit the spirit and talent of the Andrews sisters from one great hit to another.
Together with the greats of their time, such as Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, the Andrews Sisters defined a generation of music that is slowly fading into locked-away vaults. Sisters of Swing is a light, fun, and tender tribute to these incredible women and what they accomplished during a very difficult time in our nation's history. After listening to the auto-tuned and enhanced music of today, hearing the first two or three musical numbers of Sisters is a bit of a shock to the system. But if you step back and truly listen, you will recognize that the music of the Sister's generation was about raw vocal talent. Songs were of a simpler time, and much like today, music was used to express love, pain, and hope. The Andrews sisters were truly one of America's first great female groups, and as such, deserve a great deal of praise and respect.
If for no other reason than to simply learn more about America's great sweethearts, make the visit to Infinity Theatre to see Sisters of Swing. I am confident, however, that you will walk out of the theater with a sense of gratitude, appreciation, and respect for a long-ago era that you never expected to feel - and Infinity deserves a great deal of credit for enabling us to recognize this through a solidly built classic production.