Updated: Mar 25
"One thing is certain — Roger Bean understands that drag still packs a punch!"
I’m talking about The Andrews Brothers…no, not those pro tag-team wrestlers from the United Kingdom, and definitely not the Dueling Piano Andrews Brothers from Atlanta. This is all about a crowd-pleasing Roger Bean jukebox musical called “The Andrews Brothers” that takes audiences on a musical journey back to the 1940s.
The plot’s premise involves the famous boogie-woogie trio, The Andrews Sisters, who are scheduled to perform in a USO show for the troops, but are abruptly forced to cancel due to an outbreak of chicken pox. With the superstars stuck in quarantine, three determined stagehands — 4-F for one ailment or another — decide to do their part for the war effort, while seeking their big break.
Along with a perky pinup beauty, they go on with the show, presuming that the distance from the stage, some form-fitting vintage underpinnings, low-heeled oxfords and shoulder-length, upswept finger curls will send the troops off believing they’ve seen Patty, Maxene and LaVerne, rather than Patrick, Max and Lawrence.
Featuring hit songs from that period, with many that were made legendary by The Andrews Sisters, Musical Theatre West’s production kicks off the first production of their 70th Anniversary Year, presented at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach, and now performing through February 27th .
If some of this sounds familiar, you may be thinking of any one in a cluster of similar shows from Mr. Bean, e.g., “Don’t Touch That Dial!” “Summer of Love,” “Route 66,” “Honky Tonk Laundry,” and “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” Bean also contrived milestones resulting in wild popularity and subsequent followups, called “The Marvelous Wonderettes” (now with over 1,200 off-Broadway performances), along with the sequels “Wonderettes: Caps & Gowns,” “Winter Wonderettes,” “Wonderettes: Dream On,” and the new large-cast “Wonderettes: Glee Club Edition.”
But in "The Andrews Brothers," there's also 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.
Showcasing 25 songs, 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 directed by Jeffrey Polk (“Footloose”) and musically directed by Ryan O’Connell (“Mary Poppins”), conducting a sizzling live band who pulls off war-time ballads, pop songs and novelty numbers with dash and drive as well as patriotic pride.
The show is really chock-full of slapstick and gender-bender gags; one scene in particular from this past Sunday’s performance left the audience in the aisles when two senior veterans were selected at random from the audience and coaxed onstage to play bit parts in a hilarious scene (“Six Jerks in a Jeep”).
And, with the high energy charms of its cast and a sweet commitment to the form, it is impossible not to accentuate the positive. The triple-threat cast includes three of the best harmonizers I have heard in years. David Engel (“Cage aux Folles”) as Max, the frazzled leader of the group, bringing a firm presence and strong voice, and strives to remain in charge in the face of total disaster. Max is not only flat-footed, but habitually crushes other people’s metatarsals as well.
Jonathan Arana (“Take Me to the World”) draws laughs as the near-sighted Lawrence, and sells his numbers with style as he desperately clutches his “cheat-sheet lyrics” index cards stuffed in his brassiere. His incredibly poor eyesight puts him in some very precarious situations in the show.
Larry Raben’s (“The Producers”) tongue-tied Patrick is quite the expert at comedic timing. Patrick has asthma and wheezes heavily when he gets nervous. When really nervous, he stutters. When incredibly nervous, he faints. Patrick is the younger brother of the other two, and Max and Lawrence are careful to take care of him. But it's Patrick’s developing infatuation with Ms. Simmons’ love-bombed Peggy which adds a very sweet touch to the story and almost steals the show.
That brings us to Krystle Rose Simmons (“Invincible”) as pinup girl Peggy Jones, whose eyes always seem to be smiling. This young woman carries her own spotlight with her. Her rich voice can handle a range from brassy Broadway-style belting to a warm and sultry torch song, whatever the musical moment happens to be. Even just standing still, she’s an exclamation point; that’s called stage presence. It’s no accident that she not only holds the stage, but is beginning to appear on shows like “Ellen DeGeneres Show” and Andy Cohen’s “Watch What Happens Live.” Not only is she an Inland Theater Award Winner, but has also been nominated for an NAACP Theater Award, as well as an Ovation Award.
Consummate professionals all, the cast sells themselves like they are hawking war bonds. And they are! Director Polk 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.
With a winning cast, clear direction, and period inspired choreography by Roger Castellano (“A Chorus Line”), Musical Theatre West’s production is a lively, gut-busting, extremely enjoyable show. The near-flawless performances, both instrumental and in song, are as much a tribute to the cast and crew as they are to the more than two dozen famous hits that has endured for almost 80 years now...the very songs GIs would have heard on the radio during World War II.
CAST: JONATHAN ARANA as Lawrence; DAVID ENGEL as Max; LARRY RABEN as Patrick; KRYSTLE ROSE SIMMONS as Peggy Jones.
CREATIVE TEAM: Director JEFFREY POLK; Writer/Creator ROGER BEAN; Musical & Vocal Arrangements ROGER BEAN, MICHAEL BORTH AND JON NEWTON; Music Director/Conductor RYAN O’CONNELL; Choreographer ROGER CASTELLANO; Scenic Design/Technical Director KEVIN CLOWES; Costumes DEBBIE ROBERTS; Lighting PAUL BLACK; Sound Design JULIE FERRIN; Wigs Design ANTHONY GAGLIARDI; Production Manager STEVE CALZARETTA; Company Manager BREN THOR; Casting LINDSAY BROOKS; Production Stage Manager KELLY MARIE PATE; Assistant Stage Manager DANIEL T. SCHULTZ; Executive Producer PAUL GARMAN; Honorary Producer AVALEE WAGNER; Associate Producer JOAN WELLS.
Southern California’s Premier Musical Theatre Company, Musical Theatre West, in association with The Carpenter Performing Arts Center, Long Beach, proudly present THE ANDREWS BROTHERS, playing February 11th through February 27th, 2022. Running time approximately 2 hours, 15 minutes with one intermission. COVID-19 safety protocols apply. For tickets and/or information, dates and times of upcoming performances, please visit https://musical.org/the-andrews-brothers/
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report