BWW Review: THE ANDREWS BROTHERS Jukebox Musical Recreates a WWII USO Show Somewhere in the South Pacific
In 1940, America's military was essentially "on alert" and escalating both in enlistment and training in preparation for what appeared to be our inevitable entry into World War II. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, aware that troops needed the occasional "break" from their daily routine, approached several private organizations and challenged them to pool their resources to provide the much-needed recreational and entertainment services for these hard-working service personnel. And in February 1941, the USO (United Service Organizations) was chartered and soon began "Camp Shows" at bases within the U.S. Popular entertainers selflessly volunteered to perform for free, represented every corner of show business.
With the U.S. entry into WWII after Pearl Harbor, the USO expanded their services to U.S. outposts globally. Newsreel footage taken at USO Shows around the world were screened in movie theaters back home, giving stateside citizens a chance to see their boys, often more than half a world away, enjoying the type of entertainment being presented back home. And ever since then, the non-profit USO organization has existed to provide recreational, entertaining, and morale-lifting services to U.S. military service personnel worldwide, wherever troops are stationed to defend our freedom and our country.Playwright Roger Bean (The Marvelous Wondrettes, Life Could Be A Dream), was born in 1962 and began studying theater when he was 8 years old. Thanks to his parents, Bean's love of music from the 40s, 50s and 60s, led to the creation of several popular jukebox musicals centered around the songs which bring back happy memories not only for Bean, but for everyone who grew up dancing their troubles away to the soundtrack of our lives via the radio and movies, and later, television.
Bean's jukebox musical THE ANDREWS BROTHERS, with musical and vocal arrangements by Roger Bean, Michael Borth and Jon Newton, brings the excitement and great music presented at a 1945 USO show somewhere on a small island in the South Pacific inside the Beverly O'Neill Theater, presented by International City Theatre in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center through March 8, directed and choreographed by Jamie Torcellini, with musical direction by Brent Crayon. The sung-through musical is sure to please those who remember the 1940s first-hand, or those of us who appreciate the song stylings of those bygone days. According to Bean, "Here we create the atmosphere of a rag-tag USO team - a very real organization with an important and impressive history - sing songs familiar to many in the audience, and try to live up to the memory of a legendary singing group."THE ANDREWS BROTHERS opens with last-minute preparations underway for a USO show, which is threatened with cancellation when a certain famous trio of singing sisters fails to show up. And with amateur singer, "Peggy the Pin-Up Girl" (Kelley Dorney) soon to arrive to go on with the famous trio, it's left to three earnest and determined stagehands (Michael D'Elia, Max DeLorch and Grant Hodges) to go on with the show. Mistaken identities, zany adventures, a bit of cross-dressing, and the music of an entire generation highlight this valentine to the heroes of World War II. Kelley Dorney, effervescent to a tee, keeps a smile on her face even when things go wrong. After all, as a singer grateful for her first "international" singing engagement, she has no choice but to be sure the show goes on, even when the "stars" don't show up. So what's a girl to do? How about recruit THE ANDREWS BROTHERS, the stagehands, to don the costumes in the Andrews Sisters trunk, and entertain the troops as if nothing has gone wrong? After all, as she tells them, "the audience is far enough away not to notice you are men in dresses." And thanks to costume designer Kim DeShazo, the hoax works beautifully, as do all the wonderful 1940s ensembles worn by Dorney during the show. And go on they do, thanks to the talented triple-threat performances of Michael D'Elia, Max DeLorch and Grant Hodges who not only cross-dress and harmonize beautifully, but even tap dance in heels! The boys appear to be having the time of their lives and their enthusiasm will grab your attention, get your feet tapping, and hopefully your hands clapping. Among the numbers presented by the four performers are classic favorites "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive," "Bei Mir Bist Du Schon," "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," "G.I. Jive," "Mairzy Doats," "Rosie the Riveter," and "Three Little Sisters" among many others. In the spirit of what were surely amateur shows at the time, things that can go wrong do go wrong, props and scenery get misplaced or disappear, set pieces get stuck backstage, music is often played off-key, but nothing stops the dedicated and talented cast from presenting the best show possible to their audience of appreciative GIs, in this case, the audience itself. I do hope at future performances, the opening announcement encourages the audience to play along and react as those excited, young servicemen would have, as the night I attended the room was way too quiet so the audience interaction the actors were looking for never happened.
The saving grace was when two audience members were pulled onstage by cast members and asked to participate in several numbers, which generated very appreciative responses and laughter from the audience. On the night I attended, Owen and Dennis were the lucky two and a riot, especially during the "Six Jerks in a Jeep" song in which they took on the roles of "beep beep" horn and the Jeep's driver. And applause greeted the group as the "Jeep" was pushed around the stage, with all six occupants reacting to every move with enough unison to make you believe the two invited audience members had done it before - which, of course, they had not!
Kudos to the entire production's creative team including set designer Todd Faux, lighting designer Crystal R. Shomph, costume designer Kim DeShazo, sound designer Dave Mickey, prop designer Patty Briles and hair and wigs designer Anthony Gagliardi for brilliantly recreating a moving tribute to the gloriously innocent days of the 1940s, led by the capable vision of director/choreographer Jamie Torcellini and musical director Brent Crayon.
THE ANDREWS BROTHERS performances take place on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through March 8, 2020. Tickets are $49 on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and $52 on Sundays. International City Theatre is located in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center at 330 East Seaside Way in Long Beach, CA 90802. For reservations and information, call 562-436-4610 or go to InternationalCityTheatre.org.
Photo credit: Tracey Roman