They never piloted a B-17 Flying Fortress or manned the guns of a battleship. But their contribution to the war effort was a vital component to victory in the Second World War.
The Andrews Sisters already were a nationally known singing ensemble by the late 1930s. As the United States entered the war, however, it was the patriotic trio’s efforts overseas entertaining and inspiring the troops, as well as their work on the home front from hospital wards to war bond rallies, that forever secured their place in the hearts of a generation.
With “America’s Wartime Sweethearts: A Tribute to the Andrews Sisters,” the Stage Door Canteen celebrates the impact that LaVerne, Maxene and Patty Andrews had on the times. In doing so, the Canteen also inherently recognizes with honor the service of the veterans, whose sprits the sisters lifted.
Another in a series of shows featuring members of the Canteen’s own popular ensemble, the Victory Belles, “America’s Wartime Sweethearts” is a charming and upbeat show that makes for a fine afternoon of pure entertainment.
The Andrews Sisters made more than 600 recordings and sold more than 90 million records throughout their career, becoming the best-selling female vocal group of the 20th century. With energetic performances and a swift pace, the Victory Belles survey nearly three dozen of those hits across the hourlong performance.
Showcasing the sisters’ famous smooth, harmonic sound, with its bright, jumping rhythms, the Victory Belles transport the audience across the decades. The performance is not mere mimicry, however, as each brings her own personality and vocal abilities to the stage.
Shelbie Mac, one of the newest members of the Belles, takes the role of Patty Andrews. Like Patty, she often has the lead lines bringing a ringing voice with a wide range to such hits as “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” or “Bei Mir bist du Schein,” each of which also shows off her velvety, jazzy croon.
Mandi Ridgdell, playing LaVerne Andrews, the oldest of the team, brings a richness to the blend, especially in the warm lower ranges, creating the foundation on which that remarkable three-part sound is created.
Cristina Perez, portraying Maxene Andrews, also shows a broad range in her voice. Maxene was especially known for her high soprano. Perez serves her memory admirably, reaching top notes with seeming ease and a crystalline vibrancy.
While it would be impossible to squeeze in every hit the sisters made — they had more than a hundred songs hit the Billboard charts over 15 years — most of the expected big hits are here. A nice surprise of the show is recalling how wide-ranging the styles of music were that the Andrews Sisters brought to the popular culture.
The popular patriotic wartime songs are well represented with rousing renditions of “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again,” and “Oh Johnny Oh,” among others.
The Victory Belles also capture what was once the exotic mystique of Latin America, with a splendid medley of such hits as “South American Way,” “Tico Tico,” “Say Si Si” and “Rum and Coca Cola.”
They even made the much-lamented polka come to life with “The Beer Barrel Polka,” “The Pennsylvania Polka,” and the “Victory Polka,” along with such silly variations as “More Beer,” “The Strip Polka,” and “The Too Fat Polka.”
And the energy never wanes when it comes to the boogie-woogie sounds of such definitive Andrews Sisters songs as “Shoo Shoo Baby,” “Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar,” “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” and “Hold Tight, Hold Tight.”
With each number the Belles also capture a pure showmanship, dancing with precision to Heidi Malnar’s choreography. Under Tom Hook’s musical direction, Perez, Mac and Ridgdell sing with crisp unity and a kinetic verve, bringing it all home with an appropriate finale of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “In the Mood.”
Throughout, Alex Quinby’s lighting evokes the right mood, while Joe Olivier’s sound designs recall the sound of wartime radio Big Band broadcasts.
Director Victoria Reed, who also wrote the show, keeps the pacing taut throughout, while also recognizing the memories and emotions these numbers will recall, without letting the proceedings get syrupy in a false sentiment.
As the entertainment venue for the National World War II Museum, keeping those memories alive is a vital part of the Stage Door Canteen’s mission. While that is evident in the Canteen’s various theatrical and musical offerings presented on typical weekend evenings, where one or two WWII veterans might be in the audience, it truly comes across at one of these weekday, luncheon performances.
On a Wednesday afternoon, most of the audience members are tourists, many senior citizens visiting the museum as part of a motorcoach tour. Quite a few are veterans. To be in the presence of these heroes, for whom these songs and memories are particularly important, makes this show resonate as so much more than mere entertainment.
As Ridgdell, Mac and Perez step from the stage to ask one of these vets for a dance, decades melt away as the spirit of that time is captured with dignity, admiring love and the deepest respect... (read more at: http://www.nola.com/arts/index.ssf/2014/10/with_energetic_americas_wartim.html)
- The Victory Belles -- Cristina Perez, Shelbie Mac and Mandi Ridgdell -- perform their latest, 'America's Wartime Sweethearts: A Tribute to The Andrews Sisters,' at the Stage Door Canteen. (Photo courtesy The National WWII Museum)