Sisters of Swing
Infinity Theatre Company opened a second summer season at the Children’s Theater of Annapolis to a full house Saturday night with Sisters of Swing, a musical memoir about the Andrews Sisters. With a savvy marketing plan that brings New York talent and tourists to our Capital city — plus kids’ shows at the Bay Theatre Company — Infinity sets the new standard of excellence for local entertainment.
The Andrews Sisters — Patty (Julia Burrows), the blond lead and youngest; Maxene (Jackie Washam), the brunette with the big range; and LaVerne (Lynsey Buckelew), the redheaded alto and eldest — dominated the airwaves as America’s first pop divas during the Second World War. But success was not instantaneous for the wholesome trio from Minnesota. This revue hits the highs and lows of their successes and squabbles while showcasing the tight vocal harmonies, choreographed precision and humorous shticks that made them so popular.
Act I chronicles their road to success as teens traveling the Vaudeville and radio circuit under their parents’ supervision. Times were tough, but their determination to Hold Tight paid off with a recording contract that turned their second platter, the unlikely Yiddish Swing Bei Mir Bist Du Schon, to gold. Their new manager, Lou Levy (Steve Gagliastro), made the hit by suggesting they translate the song into English, and from there it was Choo-Choo to Broadway, with Levy holding an express ticket to Maxene’s heart.
The girls’ father, deposed by Levy as the girls’ manager, opposed the match for anti-Semitic and monetary reasons, leading to a scandal that rocked the police beat, for he stood to lose not just a daughter but also a fortune. This family discord set the stage for more to follow throughout their long career. Romance was a touchy subject for the sisters all around, with Patty’s marriage to their pianist Vic Shoen (Jonathan D. Cable) ending in divorce, as did Maxene’s to Levy. LaVerne, meanwhile, comes across in this script as an old scold, though comedienne was her public persona.
The contrast between public harmony and private discord is at times jarring, especially near the end of Act II when LaVerne and Patty are no longer on speaking terms.
But the music is swell. Highlights include Near You, I Can Dream Can’t I, Apple Blossom Time and Burrows’ sumptuous solo I Love You Much Too Much. Gagliastro proves a versatile comic in roles such as a beer wench (The Beer Barrel Polka), Bing Crosby (Accentuate the Positive), Carmen Miranda (Rum and Coca-Cola) and the swingin’ bugler in Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.
One musical disappointment, though, was Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree, for an arrangement that lost the melody amid too strident harmony. Also, the story line sometimes leaps in illogical sequence. Case in point: the girls are arranging their mother’s funeral and realize they forgot music, which mother would have wanted, so they hop up and perform the hilarious Carmen’s Boogie.
Hoofers Lance E. Hayes, Jimmy Mavrikes and JZ Zaeske dazzle with their finessed ballet and jazz steps, while bassist Daniel M. Hall and percussionist Mike Ranelli complete the spirited instrumental trio onstage with Cable.
Visually, this is an unexciting show. The period set is a blend of USO stage and middle-class living room decorated with a rogues’ gallery of tintype portraits. The costumes are predictable, from plain Jane in Peter Pan collars and black A-line skirts to GI Jane in ill-fitting khakis. A clearer distinction in hair color between Maxene and LaVerne would also have helped to make each more identifiable.
Such matters, though, are small in context to the whole. This is a gem of a time capsule any traditional music fan or patriot is sure to enjoy. Infinity does the Andrews Sisters proud.
By Beth Gilleland and Don Beverage. Musical arrangements by Raymond Berg. Director: J.D. Brock. Musical director: David Libby. Choreographer: Kim Schafer. Set designer: Jake Ewonus. Costumer: Jessa-Raye Court. Lights: James E. Lawlor III and Anshu Bhatia. Sound: Wes Shippee.
Playing thru July 1 at 2pm and 7pm Th; no show F; 8pm Sa; 2pm Su at Children’s Theatre of Annapolis, Bay Head Park, 1661 Bay Head Rd., Annapolis. $19-$38; rsvp: 877-501-8499; www.infinitytheatrecompany.com.