note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
When “Sisters of Swing,” the musical biography of the Andrews Sisters, appeared at the Stoneham Theatre in April 2008, multi-aged audiences agreed it was fun for all ages, a priceless, harmonic trip down Memory Lane. Recently, we’re told, cast members spoke with sole surviving sister, Patty Andrews. They added some songs and made brief changes to the script. However, the additional songs weren’t familiar to veteran Andrews fans.
Let’s face it, though. You can’t go off course with the Andrews Sisters‘ unforgettable harmony, rhythm, and tunes that have left their imprint on the American Songbook.
The show starts with a rousing overture, as lone pianist (Music Director Mario Cruz) and Co. offer a medley.
Narrator-jack-of-all-trades Steve Gagliastro opens a giant scrapbook, as the girls emerge, one at a time, singing “Three Little Fishes”. They’re in Minneapolis, in 1926, participating in a talent contest, where they win first place. LaVerne is the eldest, Maxene, the middle and prettiest sister, and Patty, the youngest and liveliest, is lead singer. She bubbles over with personality. Set designer Audra Avery’s massive triptych background is dotted with authentic photos, post cards, and a screen that flashes biographic events as three talented actresses - Laura DiGiacomo, Kimberly Robertson and Kerry Jill Garbis reprise their 2008 roles as Patty, Maxene and LaVerne.
Behind a huge, background photograph, six talented musicians produce a big band sound throughout the play.
Highlighting the singers’ big tunes, dotted with sparse dialogue, the girls trace the Andrews Sisters’ career, from traveling the vaudeville circuit in their parents’ Packard, appearing on the Ted Mack radio show, and landing a recording contract with Decca Records, singing a Yiddish tune, “Bei Mir Bist du Schon” - to the dismay of their anti-Semitic, Greek father, Peter Andrews. As Jewish manager Lou Levy coaches the girls to stardom, calling himself the “fourth Andrews sister,” he also falls in love with Maxene, angering her dad, who chases him away with a rifle. He’s oblivious to the fact his daughters’ careers were bolstered and backed by prominent Jews.
As their fame soars, their parents build themselves “a palace in the Palms,” Maxene cracks angrily, while they’re given meager stipends to spend.
The girls swing with songs like “Hold Tight,” accenting their harmony and “boodyakka” scat beat. They “Accent the Positive” with hit crooner Bing Crosby (Gagliastro) and play straight comics to Danny Kaye (Gagliastro) on radio. Because they perform in drab suits, (which designer Kurt Hultgren sparsely supplies), LaVerne is shattered when critics crack, “They look like the Ritz Bros. in drag”.
In 1941, they roll out the barrel at an Oktoberfest, performing a rousing rendition of “The Beer Barrel Polka” in the aisles, as Gagliastro clowns around as a buxom blonde beer garden waitress. Suddenly, the screen flashes “Pearl Harbor bombed,” catapulting America into the war.
Act II opens with house lights on and a call for volunteers to help with song, “Six Jerks in a Jeep,” as the background flashes authentic footage of the Andrews Sisters performing it.
The sisters’ nostalgic songs, such as “I Can Dream, Can’t I?,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree with Anyone Else but Me,” “I’ll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time” and upbeat tunes like “Rum and Coca Cola,” soothed servicemen during a 1945 USO tour and in hospitals.
When the girls rejoicingly announce the war is over, they burst into a jubilant rendition of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B”
. Turning kaleidoscopically, they announce their mother’s death; their marriages and divorces; Patty’s scandalous attack on freckled-faced, blonde singer Doris Day’s house, after learning Patty’s husband, Marty Melchior, was wooing Day; the sisters’ breakup; Patty’s unsuccessful foray as a soloist; and LaVerne’s death from cancer. Unfortunately, these facts are squeezed into the end, diluting their impact.
BOX INFO: Two-act, two-hour musical play, written by Beth Gilleland and Bob Beverage; directed, choreographed by Bobby Cronin, playing through July 24 at Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main St., Stoneham. Showtimes, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 4, 8 p.m. Sunday, 2 p.m.; additional senior matinees, July 6,13,20, with special senior/student matinee rates.Tickets, $44-$48;students, $20. Call the Box Office at 781-279-2200 or visit online www.stonehamtheatre.org.