The Andrew Sisters are in full swing at Infinity Theater inAnnapolis, where their legendary tight bouncy harmony assures that a frolicking time can be had by all.
Director Jay D. Brock works magic with the so-so script by Beth Gilleland and Bob Beverage focusing on what counts—the music and flavor of the time with stylish pizzazz from his trio of songbirds and a winning ensemble.
With roots in Minnesota and lineage from a Greek Mom and Nordic dad, the sisters started singing and harmonizing when the littlest, Patty was just out of toddler range. The story tells their journey, shows them holding tightly to each other through the early days of record deals, tours on the old vaudeville circuits and onward to the big time. Through it all, they had a bond that withstood the travails of misunderstandings, bickering, secrets and stress, always returning to their roots—the music. When they could release themselves in their perfectly pitched tones, breathing almost as one, all was right with the world, if only for that moment.
From the beginning, each character takes on a distinctive personality—Julia Burrows as Patty starts off as a kind of narrator, explaining that she’s the last one left having outlived her older sisters. Lynsey Buckelew as the eldest LaVerne leads the pack with an easy going big-sister manner, smoothing out arguments, making the decisions, nudging the brood toward success.
Jackie Washam as the middle sister Maxene is the first to break out of their parents’ hovering watch, falls in love with the Jewish manager, and deals with Dad’s disappointment for “settling.”
This is an easy listening show for a good time that doesn’t scratch much below the surface. The first act shows the sisters’ rise to fame, their skillful approach to the music and non-stop work ethics to keep getting gigs on the circuit. In one sequence, Jonathan D. Cable plays Vic the pianist and provides a fascinating demonstration of how a subtle change in tempo and style can turn a drab number into a sizzling hit—in this case, it was “Bei Mir Bist Du Schon,” with its funky off-beat rhythm, minor key intonations and intentionally retained smattering of Yiddish for effect (even if the words mean nothing, the tune is instantly recognizable).
All of the old favorite songs are there, including “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree with Anyone Else But Me,” “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy” and other well-known ditties. Living in tight quarters, the girls squabbled like normal siblings, and to show a bit of realism, director Brock lends a nice touch by having them hit a squalling peak while singing “Accentuate the Positive” lyrics about family support and love. Similar flashes of the director’s visionary influence energize the script throughout.
The second act starts off with a terrifically staged and energetic dance number, choreographed by Kim Schafer and several dancers join the cast for an all out swinging time. The text reinforces the sisters’ unwavering commitment to entertaining the troops in uniforms nicely designed byJessa-Raye Court.
In one scene, the sisters took a stand to make sure that the black soldiers got a chance to sit in the auditorium, too, a bold move that I’m sure had consequences and took its toll. The script also nods to the importance of such performers as Bing Cosby and Danny Kaye who were also devoted war time entertainers, in addition to a funny bit on Carmen Miranda, all terrific impersonations by Steve Gagliastro. I’m not sure why the ultimate impresario troop entertainer Bob Hope wasn’t included in the line-up or even mentioned, probably because he wasn’t a songster with a signature sound, but it was still a noticeable omission.
The last portion of the script struggles to tie together all the loose ends resulting in a frazzled jumble of events that barely resolve. While the first half portrayed the impenetrable bond between the sisters, sealed by their deep rooted family ties to their parents, the bonds begin to fray as the years wear on and their beloved father dies. The scene depicting the funeral abruptly morphs to the next setting about the elder sister finally finding a mate and getting married, so quickly that it’s jerky and confusing. The next few scenes tumble through a cascade of mishaps from financial misadventures, to a relationship gone bad, to Patty’s philandering husband’s episodes that stayed in the tabloids. The jumble of the pathetic personal unravelings seem tucked at the end like a bit of unfortunate untidiness rather than woven throughout as part of the story. Still, the music soars and counterbalances the growing pains of a relatively new work.
Infinity Theatre was begun in 2010 by co-founders (and married theatre professionals) Anna Roberts Ostroff and Alan Ostroff. Finding a summer home at the CTA Theatre Complex on the outskirts of Annapolis, they are fulfilling their aim to produce and offer high-quality performances in an affordable setting. Their next venture, Dames At Sea, choreographed by three-time Tony nominee and choreographer, Randy Skinner, is a perfect selection for a Navy town and will assuredly be worth the trip to see.
Sisters of Swing runs thru July 1, 2012 at CTA Theatre Complex, 1661 Bay Head Road Annapolis, MD.|
Sisters of Swing: The Story of the Andrews Sisters
Conceived and Written by, Based on an idea by Ron Peluso
Directed by Jay D. Brock
Produced by Infinity Theater
Reviewed by Debbie MinterJackson
Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission