REVIEW: "The Andrews Brothers" — International City Theatre
Updated: Feb 26
"...Brothers" Is a Fun Trip Down Memory Lane!
One thing is certain — Roger Bean understands that drag still packs a punch!
That’s crystal clear in International City Theatre’s brand new production of “The Andrews Brothers,” kicking off its 35th season in a madcap salute to the swinging ‘40s, presented at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center through March 8th on the Beverly O’Neill Stage. An opening night gala is set for February 21st which includes a post-show reception with the actors, along with an optional pre-show dinner.
Hey, haven’t I seen “The Andrews Brothers” before, you ask?
Probably not, but you’ve seen something like it: “Forever Plaid,” “Route 66” and “Altar Boyz” come quickly to mind. Created by Roger Bean, who also contrived other, similar, revue-style milestones called “The Marvelous Wondrettes,” ”Life Could Be a Dream,” “Summer of Love” and “Honky Tonk Laundry,“ – they’re all part of a cottage industry of nostalgia, musical revues of songs from a particular era with scripts providing just the right amount of tension and humor to get the trio or quartet in the show on to the next song.
But in "The Andrews Brothers," there's a greater calling. Mistaken identities, zany adventures, a bit of cross-dressing and the music of an entire generation highlight this valentine to the heroes of World War II. The year is 1945, and the lush, big band numbers from that era are perfect fodder for a crowd-pleasing jukebox musical that is light on your feet and heavy on harmonies. In fact, this splashy sendup of a South Pacific USO tour has much of the broad humor of a "flatfoot floogie with a floy-floy" variety. But high spirits, combined with an essential respect for America’s wartime experience, prompts smiles galore in the show’s two hour audience engagement.
Featuring almost 30 songs made famous by The Andrews Sisters, including “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Slow Boat to China,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” and “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” this infectious romp is both directed and choreographed by Jamie Torcellini, most recently from the quirky “The 39 Steps,” and the aforementioned “Life Could Be a Dream.” The show is accompanied by a sizzling live band led by Musical Director Brent Crayon (“First Date,” “Tick, Tick...BOOM!”), who pulls off ballads, pop songs and novelty numbers with dash and drive, and works them hard.
The triple-threat cast includes Michael D’Ella (“Comic-Con: The Musical” at Hollywood Fringe; “Sweeney Todd” at the El Portal) as the sight-impaired Lawrence, desperately clutching his “cheat-sheet lyrics” index cards stuffed in his brassiere; Max DeLoach (“Westside Story;” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame;” “Sunset Boulevard” at the Moonlight Ampitheatre) as speech-impeded Patrick, who is the object of affection from our heroine; Kelley Dorney (“Nice Work If You Can Get It” at Musical Theatre West; “Lend Me a Tenor” at La Mirada) as a picture of perfection, and the heroine from which we speak; and Grant Hodges (“Singin’ in the Rain” at La Mirada), who is not only flat-footed, but habitually crushes other peoples’ metatarsals as well.
The potboiler is simple enough – The Andrews Sisters have a show, a USO variety gig, at a military base on a South Seas island for a group of soldiers going off to battle the next day. Three frustrated stagehands happen to be working that show, brothers, who are also entertainers, but with never a glimmer of hope to actually perform on stage. So when pin-up gal Peggy Jones (Ms. Dorney), the warm-up act arrives, the stagehands pretend to be back-up singers and the foursome rehearses a series of WWII-era classics.
Word comes in that "The Andrews Sisters" have been quarantined and the show is to be cancelled. Unwilling to disappoint the troops (and eager to showcase their talents), Peggy talks the boys into standing in for the no-show Andrews Sisters and doing the act in doppelganger drag, as Patty, Maxene, and LaVerne, complete with lipstick, upswept wigs, form-fitting skirts, padded particulars, and low-heeled closed-toe oxfords that double as tap shoes.
After the break, the set is transformed into the actual U.S.O. show, and voila! The theater audience fills the role of the battle-bound troops, to give the departing soldiers one last bit of entertainment. In fact, the show becomes immersive and audience members participate on stage in playful cachinnations and hilarity.
Potentially dicey issues of the contrast between the war back then and the war being fought today is deftly finessed. Unabashed patriotism of 1940s is tacitly carried through in the show itself and makes no apology. They’re doing it for — and in memory of — “the boys.”
Ms. Dorney has a dream voice and a sultry stage presence that nicely counterbalances the slapstick, performed with no-holds-barred absurdity by the three brothers, Patrick, Max and Lawrence.
Consummate professionals all, the cast sells this insubstantial diversion like they are hawking war bonds. And they are! Director Torcellini sends his truckin’ and jivin’ coterie through novelty song and swing tune alike, their extended drag act carried out with light-hearted flippancy and animation. Picture Bing and Danny Kaye singing “Sisters” in drag in “White Christmas,” or Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in “Some Like It Hot” — capitalizing on heel wobbling fun, with of course the required, innocent bosom humor.
Speaking of heels, Ms. Dorney can carry off cartwheels in hers. Her period-correct zaftig, Frances Langford quality, would easily qualify her as a G.I.’s dream, then or now. The few solo numbers also belong to Ms. Dorney with her golden voice, fluidly shifting from her girl-next-door persona to sultry vamp depending upon the demands of the song.
Almost all of the show’s songs are ensemble numbers, capitalizing on exceptional vocal harmonies while showcasing each performer’s individual abilities. The near-flawless performances, set to an appealing score, are as much a tribute to Director Torcellini and Mr. Crayon’s musical direction as they are a reflection of the cast’s uniformly strong singing voices, most all famous hits and obscure one-offs that GIs would have heard on the radio during World War II.
The creative team for the ICT production includes Set Designer Todd Faux, Lighting Designer Crystal R. Shomph, Costume Designer Kim DeShazo, Sound Designer Dave Mickey, Prop Designer Patty Briles and Hair & Wig Designer Anthony Gagliardi. Production Stage Manager is Donna Parsons.
Musical and Vocal Arrangements are by the team of Roger Bean, Michael Borth and Jon Newton.
“The Andrews Brothers” runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm, February 21st through March 8th. With a winning cast, clear direction, and period inspired choreography, Director Torcellini’s production is a hilarious, lively, and extremely enjoyable show.
Tickets/reservations and information is at www.ictlongbeach.org or call 562-436-4610. International City Theatre is located in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center at 330 East Seaside Way in Long Beach.
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
Photo Credits: Tracey Roman