They sure don’t make music like THAT anymore – and by “that” I mean music that defined a nation. Sure, rock and hip hop have played major roles in shaping our culture, but it was America’s Wartime Sweethearts, The Andrews Sisters, who took the country by storm as teenagers in the 1930s with luxurious harmonies that soothed the anxieties of an entire world at war. Appealing to young and old alike, Patty, Maxine and Laverne reigned supreme for the next 20-plus years, ultimately recording more than 700 songs – 46 of which hit the Top 10, which is more than Elvis Presley and the Beatles achieved – earning nine gold records and selling an estimated 90 million records.
Although half a century has passed, the trio is certainly not forgotten. That became obvious this past Saturday night as I watched a wide range of people wander into Meadow Brook Theatre for the opening night performance of “Sisters of Swing: The Story of the Andrews Sisters.” And all doubt was erased when I heard people of all ages quietly sing their favorite tunes in unison with the cast.
Unlike other music retrospectives that contrive a plot to help move the revue along, authors Beth Gilleland and Bob Beverage intersperse chronological snippets of the sisters’ life story among 21 of their most popular tunes. While such an approach helps us get to know the girls and to understand the inner workings behind their success, the moments are often all-too short and leave us wanting to know more.
In the music and talent departments, however, the show is all aces.
That’s because director David L. Regal has assembled a top-notch team to bring the show to life.
Brian Dambacher’s double-revolving set is especially impressive – and Regal utilizes it well. And the four-piece band under the direction of pianist John Dale Smith never misses a beat.
But where Regal reaches perfection is with his cast.
In particular, he’s selected an amazing trio of women to recreate the familiar harmonies of the Andrew Sisters – and they do so almost flawlessly. Stacy White (Patty), Jennifer Joan Joy (Maxene) and Janine Novenske Smith (Laverne) light up the stage, although White shines especially bright, filling the youngest sister with an effervescent personality. (It’s also the best developed character in the script.)
Joining them is the excellent Richard Marlatt, who plays most of the show’s male characters, including Bing Crosby in the number “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” and Danny Kaye in “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth.” He also provides much of the evening’s humor, some of it in drag. (His German fraulein serving beer in “Roll Out the Barrel” is a hoot, as is his Carmen Miranda impersonation in “Rum and Coca Cola.”)
And, of course, it wouldn’t be The Andrew Sisters without their signature tune, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” – and as you might expect, it’s the hit of the evening.
(FOR “REVIEW BOX”)
‘Sisters of Swing: The Story of the Andrews Sisters’
Meadow Brook Theatre, on the campus of Oakland University, Rochester. Wed.-Sun., through May 20. Tickets: $22-$38. For information: 248-377-3300 or http://www.mbtheatre.com.