BWW Review: SISTERS OF SWING Delivers Solid Performance at Town Hall Arts Center

BWW Review: SISTERS OF SWING Delivers Solid Performance at Town Hall Arts Center

In my youth, music was as important to me then as it is now. The main difference is that as a child, you have less control over the music that passes your ears. Often times, children are introduced to the music their parents - and their parents - preferred. Looking back, it is what gave me an interest in jazz and swing. Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby, and Ella Fitzgerald were all early influencers, as well as, none other than the Andrews Sisters.

In Sisters of Swing, produced by Town Hall Arts Center, the lives of LaVerne, Maxene and Patty, are put on display as they sing their way through the years. The show follows the sisters from their early days on the road and rise in fame to their dissembling over irreconcilable differences. With a score chalk-full of hit songs such as, "Bei Mir Bist Du Schon," "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," some audience members may get a sense of nostalgia that will leave them smiling.

Scenic Designer Douglas R. Clarke has done a great job at "setting the stage," right when you walk into the theater. A stationary set, it was designed to look like a traditional music hall stage with a uniquely shaped proscenium, as well as a raised platform that acted as a stage itself. The onstage band, complete with music stands that matched the set design, blended in nicely with their surroundings. The costume design by Linda Morken, I found to be underwhelming and ill-fitting, especially in the wardrobe choices for the three leading ladies. There were moments in which attention to detail was lacking, including a scene in which one of the sisters is supposed to be wearing an identifiable pair of shoes she has stolen from her sister, and yet all three are wearing standard, black character shoes.

Direction and blocking by Nick Sugar were fair, yet the set, for as minimal as it was, was underutilized. More often than not, the players would perform from the ground floor instead of on the risen platform that was made to look like a stage. There were also a few moments in which the characters remained on stage during blackouts, but it was still light enough to where the audience could see those on-stage costume changes. If there was not time to get off stage to change, I would've preferred those on stage moments to be incorporated into the written scenes. In essence, don't try to hide what they are doing, just make it obvious, as if it's supposed to be that way.

Under the direction of Sugar, the six-person cast delivers a steady performance of what is otherwise a poorly constructed musical. Written as a series of vignettes, the scenes go from one to the next as if they have been cut and pasted together, leaving giant holes in the story-telling aspect of the show. It seems as if writers Beth Gilleland and Bob Beverage chose what they felt were the most important moments of the lives of the three sisters without creating a sense of relevance to the bigger picture. Actors would occasionally narrate, providing the audience with given circumstances of the scene such as a marriage, divorce, or death of a loved one. At times, I found myself wondering why they didn't expand certain narrations into full scenes to provide more opportunity for character development and audience connection. Some scenes were out of place entirely, such as the finale to Act I, "Beer Barrel Polka." A comedic moment, yes, but does it make sense?

Historical pieces with iconic characters can be tough to portray. With the Andrews Sisters, they are more remembered for their music than they are boisterous personalities, which gave Katrina Kuntz (LaVerne), Alison Mueller (Maxene), and Ellen Kaye (Patty) more free reign in their interpretations. Other actors had more of a task on their hands, such as Scott McLean who portrayed Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, among other characters. A strong actor with commitment to the roles he played, I would've liked for him to push his skills to really embody these distinctive personalities, and more importantly, their voices.

Musically, Donna Kolpan Debreceni has done a great job in leading the onstage band as well as the performers themselves. Given the nature of the space, it would be very easy for the band to overpower the singers, however that was not so much a problem for this group as much as the overall sound design. Anytime the singers would face the other side of the audience, there was an audible difference and it became more difficult to hear the lovely three part harmonies from Kuntz, Mueller, and Kaye. As a jukebox musical revue, the majority of the music is written in 3 part harmony for the three ladies to sing, with hardly any solo performance pieces. I would've appreciated a story line that incorporated their songs, but could be sung by the different players, like many other musicals of its kind.

Overall, Sugar and his team have produced a solid production from start to finish. What I appreciated most from the ensemble cast is that no one stood out or seemed out of place. Each individual performance was consistent and complementary to what the other actors were doing on stage; a true ensemble cast. If you can get past the rather shoddy writing, the performance itself is sure to leave you entertained.

Town Hall's production of Sisters of Swing runs through Sunday, May 6, 2018. Showtimes include Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sundays at 2:00 PM. Additional matinee performance on 4/21 at 2:00 PM. For tickets, call the Town Hall Arts Center box office at (303) 794-2787 ext. 5 or visit www.townhallartscenter.org/sisters.

Photo by Becky Toma




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From This Author Jon Bee

Jon Bee is a longtime musician and thespian with a BA in Music from Millikin University and MFA in Arts Management & Leadership from Webster (read more...)

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