BWW Reviews: THE ANDREWS BROTHERS at the Arundel Barn Playhouse
Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. An instantly recognizable song to 99% of the English speaking world. The female group that made the song famous, even more recognizable and beloved: The Andrews Sisters. Champions of the USO, and perhaps the most famous singing group of all time, The Andrews Sisters sold more than 90 million records in their career, and sang to troops all over the world, raising moral and warming hearts from the East Coast to the Pacific Rim. So, you may be asking yourself why the show is called The Andrews Brothers. Ah....the magic of live theatre.
The show opens, introducing Peggy Jones (Beatrice Crosbie) and the brothers who are stagehands for the USO. Lawrence (Zack Steele), Max (Mark Edwards) and Patrick (Elliot Lane) are a would-be singing group, who find themselves in the right place at the right time. Peggy, made famous by a picture on the cover of Life Magazine in 1945 arrives in the Pacific to perform with backup singers as the opening act for the Andrews Sisters. However, the boys get word that Peggy's backup singers have cancelled; leaving them looking for a replacement. They decide to take on the job themselves, hoping that Peggy won't be the wiser. Despite their personal problems, (Max has the tendency to step on toes...literally.., Lawrence is nearsighted and has trouble seeing without his glasses, and Patrick has a debilitating stutter) the boys impress Peggy enough to earn a spot as her backing group. Along the way, she helps Patrick overcome his stutter...she also finds him very "cute", and the group continues to rehearse for the upcoming show. But, Peggy becomes a bit suspicious, and before Patrick can spit out the words to tell her the truth, she admits that she knows the boys are in fact stage hands. But, because she is duly impressed, no harm no foul. Then comes the bad news: The Andrews Sisters have been forced to cancel their appearance. It seems that Laverne caught the chicken pox, and the three sisters have been quarantined. Thus, preventing Peggy from being able to sing for the troops and the boys from making their debut on the USO stage. Heartbroken, Peggy leaves to pack her things, and the brothers decide to open up the Andrews Sisters' trunk of props and costumes that arrived without them. As they don grass skirts and congas, doing their best impression of the Sisters (after all, they do "know every note, and every lyric") Peggy discovers them and comes up with a brilliant plan: the boys should pose as the Sisters and continue the show as planned. Fraught with anxiety and trepidation, the foursome rehearses and the show goes to intermission.
When the audience returns, Peggy greets them (as the troops at the USO show) and introduces the boys, ne girls, who she explains through a stroke of bad luck, have all come down with laryngitis at the same time. What follows is a hilarious concert, with the boys doing their best to be the Sisters; stumbling on high heels, trying to overcome their faults, and all the while singing tight 3 and sometimes 4 part harmonies. At shows end, Peggy introduces the Brothers, now in fatigues, as the REAL reason the show went so well. She and the brothers sing another medley of Andrews Sisters classics, and the show concludes.
There are a few things in musical theatre that can always guarantee a strong audience response: cute animals, children, dancers doing trenches (you may not know what step I mean, but you'll know it when you see it) and men in "bad" drag. Don't let the word "bad" fool you. By "bad" I mean only that the Brothers in context of the show are not supposed to pass for women; it's their fumbling and bumbling that make the show what it is. And, on that note, it is important to touch on a few things. It takes a great singer to pretend to sing badly. Similarly, these boys have to be pretty great at what they do to make "messing up" look convincing. And let me tell you, they ARE great.
Gary John LaRosa's direction and choreography are clear, concise and hilarious. He gives the boys choreo that he knows will look awkward when they are dressed as the Sisters, but are more than capable of performing when they are in their own clothes. He illustrates and establishes, beyond a doubt, that we are in the mid '40's, and that these gentlemen are not used to performing every day; a tribute to his direction, and the talent of these three men. As I said, you have to be pretty dern good to pretend to be that bad.
Beatrice Crosbie as Peggy Jones inhabits the role with vim and vigor. Playing a role/singing in perhaps an unfamiliar old-world style can often be lost on a young performer, but Ms. Crosbie embraces this challenge and rises to the occasion. Particularly impressive are her renditions of "I Wanna Be Loved", her duet with Patrick "On A Slow Boat To China" and my personal favorite "Stuff Like That There".
The boys. Perhaps the biggest and most important compliment I can give them is something that was often said about the real-life Andrews Sisters: they often sound like a single voice. Their seamless singing, harmonizing and part-switching is not an easy accomplishment; especially when you consider they only had 2 weeks to learn their parts. This is, quite simply, an indication of their strong musicianship, and work ethic. Mark Edwards as Max shines as the de facto leader of the group, never losing his cool, and constantly being the glue that holds them together. Elliot Lane's endearing portrayal of Patrick keeps the audience "awwww!!!"-ing out loud, as you root for him to overcome his extremely convincing stutter, and to succumb to Peggy's advances. Zack Steele's Lawrence adds knee-slappable laughs as he fumbles with note cards, his glasses, and his reluctance to put on a dress and parade around as Laverne.
A HUGE round of applause goes to the band (Nick Allen on upright bass and Nate Gowen on the drum kit) under the direction of Alan Patrick Kenney. It takes great musicians to be able to add balance and compliment the singers at every given moment. Without an errant note or hit, they are the backbone of the show, providing a wonderful jazzy basis for these classic songs.
If you are looking to step back into a simpler time and hear some of your favorite songs sung near perfectly, and be entertained and laugh to the point of crying, look no further than the Arundel Barn Playhouse's triumphant opening to their 16th season, The Andrews Brothers.
Please visit www.arundelbarnplayhouse.com for tickets and more information. The Andrews Brothers runs now until July 29th, followed by Kander and Ebb's timeless Chicago (July 2-13).