Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Remembering The '40s"

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note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Beverly Creasey

Revisiting The Fabulous '40s

If you know who Mrs. Calabash is (wherever you are), then you remember the glorious decade of the '40s. The Reagle Players have been "Remembering The '40s" for eighteen years now with their annual salute to war, peace, Broadway, and the golden age of radio.

The Reagle Players recreate Bob Hope's USO tours (with The Andrews Sisters and Carmen Miranda!)...all those patriotic songs of WWII...scenes from Broadway musicals of the '40s like "South Pacific" and "Oklahoma!"...and they even recreate the famous Eisenstadt photo of "The Kiss" on VE Day from LIFE Magazine.

Bob Eagle is one shrewd director, tugging at heart strings with tearjerkers like "Say A Prayer for The Boys Over There" and "There'll Be Bluebirds Over The White Cliffs of Dover". If there isn't a catch in your throat when Rusty Russell sings "Be A Good Little Soldier When You're Daddy's Away" then you aren't human. Eagle drives home the pain of war by literally separating the men (on stage as soldiers) from the women (as wives and mothers at the back of the auditorium) for the poignant "How Soon?"

But the '40s were high-spirited too. Eagle and Company revel in their Broadway recreations. The male chorus has almost as much fun as we do in their "Nothing Like A Dame" from "South Pacific" --- not to mention the hijinks from Harold Walker in coconut-bra and grass skirt as "Honey Bun" with spunky Heather Darrow as Nellie Forbush. The chorus' soaring rendition of the title song from "Oklahoma!" --- with some nifty authentic choreography adapted by Susan Chebookjian --- electrifies the stage.

The three hour tribute flies by with so many highlights it would take three hours to list them all, but KUDOS to Marla Jenkins for her plumy, Jazzy "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" from "Pal Joey"; to Nathan Croner for his gorgeous "Irish" tenor in the very Scottish "Bend to me" from "Brigadoon"; to Rusty Russell for a sweet, nostalgic "StageDoor Canteen" (as well as his ferocious drill sergeant); to Buddy and Kathy Bergeron for their adorable Burns & Allen routine (as well as Buddy's Edgar Bergen & Friend); to John Marshall and Harold W. Walker's deliciously maddening "Who's On First" a la Abbott & Costello as well as Marshall's right on the money(!) Jack Benny; to Susan Conkey, Kathy Headrick and Maryann Murphy as the red hot Andrews Sisters; to the genuine high-kicking Rockettes (yes, the real McCoy!); and to the four dozen troupers who make up the chorus and the very heart of the Reagle show. It did "Seem Like Old Times" this weekend.

"Remembering The '40s" (till 16 October)
Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington Street, WALTHAM

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide