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Sisters of Swing! The Story of the Andrews Sisters

Sisters of Swing! The Story of the Andrews Sisters
Conceived and Written by Beth Gilleland and Bob Beverage
Based on an idea by Ron Peluso
Musical Arrangements and Continuity by Raymond Berg

Director, Sean McGuirk; Choreographer, Kevin  Hill; Musical Director, Dan Feyer; Set Designer, Jenna McFarland Lord; Costume Designer, Kurt Hultgren; Lighting Designer, Matt Guminski; Sound Designer, Ed Thurber; Prop Designer, David Allen Prescott; Stage Manager, Steven Espach

CAST:
LaVerne, Amy Barker; Maxene, Bridget Beirne; Patty, Sarah Corey, Vic Schoen/Pianist, Dan Feyer; Man, Steve Gagliastro

Performances through February 3, 2008 at Foothills Theatre Company
Box Office 508-754-4018 or www.foothillstheatre.com

The Foothills Theatre Company burst into the new year with the regional premiere of Sisters of Swing! The Story of the Andrews Sisters. With a near capacity audience at the media opening on Sunday afternoon, this joint was jumpin' and jivin' to the tunes made famous by America's Wartime Sweethearts.

First and foremost, Sisters of Swing! is about the music and that is its strength. Amy Barker, Bridget Beirne, and Sarah Corey blend their voices to recreate a mood and a time gone by and achieve the signature three part close harmony of the sisters flawlessly. Musical Director Dan Feyer and five musicians provide strong, polished accompaniment and never overpower the singers. Steve Gagliastro adds a nice counterpoint, often as the lone male voice, whether he is being himself or doing an impression of Bing Crosby.

As the lead singer Patty who carries the melody, Corey has more opportunity than the others to belt and show off her considerable pipes. However, Barker (LaVerne) and Beirne (Maxene) each get their solo turns and sing with sweetness and clarity in "I Love You Much Too Much." If the latter is a showcase for individual talents, the trio shines as an ensemble in their first big hit "Bei Mir Bist Du Schon" and the World War II era favorites "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," and "I'll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time." This production features 20 songs out of the 1,800 the Andrews Sisters recorded during their career that began in 1937 with Decca Records and spanned four decades. 

Kevin Hill augments the staging of the songs with simple choreography involving lots of movement up and down a set of risers, but there is a sameness that does not seem to tap into the dance skills of the actresses. Gagliastro adds some much needed variety and comic relief when he appears in drag for "Beer Barrel Polka" (and rolls out the barrel with an audience member he pulls onstage) and "Rum and Coca Cola," with a nod to Carmen Miranda.

If Sisters of Swing! confined its focus to the tight, harmonic singing of the Andrews' rich catalogue of songs and ramped up the degree of difficulty of the dancing, it could be a more solid piece of entertainment. The book lags behind as it tries to tell too much and show too little. Sound bites of monologue pop up to move the history along but feel like a series of stops and starts which serves only to deaden the pace. While it relates details from the sisters' lives, some of the narration comes across as morbid, and the juxtaposition of a scene about their mother's death with the subsequent recording of the "Woody Woodpecker" song is downright bizarre. As the play progresses toward its conclusion, the authors feverishly bombard us with specific tidbits like so many rockets in the grand finale of a fireworks display. I'm not sure we need to know all that, especially if it detracts from the true pleasure of the show.

The production team does a good job of creating a 1940's sensibility, especially in the costume department. From their snoods to their shoes, the actresses look the part. Gagliastro does yeoman's work as several characters and is called upon to make many quick changes (my favorite is the Carmen Miranda outfit). Minimal props include an old-fashioned table radio, vintage standing microphones, desk telephone, and small, hard shell suitcases. The sound design is adequate and most of the show is well lit, but some of the monologue spots are harsh and produce shadows on the speakers' faces.

On the whole, Sisters of Swing! is a feel good, good time that moves its audience to toe tap, clap and sing along, and reminisce about an era when we could all come together against a common foe. The cast of five and the Sisters of Swing! Band are very talented and work hard to make the show entertaining, but they have to rise above the script. When the music plays, they take off.


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