Sisters of Swing

The Andrews Sisters were a hallmark of their time, an icon of an era. They stood for freedom, families, apple pie and baseball, and Sisters of Swing brings to life this trio of immortal voices in a beautiful tapestry of song and dialogue.

As the stage lights, Patty (Olivia Corbello) crawls into the attic, looking for memories. She starts a record playing, and suddenly we are transported back to when Patty was six, and sat around the radio with her sisters, La Verne (Emily Baer) and Maxine (Em Laudeman), trying to copy the sound of the big acts. They hope more than anything to practice enough to be the best sister act ever.

So they practice, fight, laugh, and love their way through the start of a music career. As luck should have it, on a rather disappointing trip to New York, they meet an agent, who belongs to a label, who just happened to hear of them. With one impressive audition, they land themselves a record. And the rest they say, is history.

The first act of this show is just fun. With well known songs like “Three Little Fishes,” “Accentuate the Positive,” and “I Love You Much Too Much” the Andrews Sisters sing their way through high school, first crushes, costume trials, and recording sessions with Bing Crosby. Vignettes of  memories, short character monologues, and performances of some of their most loved songs paint a great picture of the sisters’ personalities and relationship with each other. Despite the age difference between La Verne and Patty, and the personality difference between Patty and Maxine, these girls love each other. They are family, and even if they don’t like each other, they are committed to work hard together and to excel as much as possible at being the “Andrews Sisters.”

But the show takes a sharp turn from Patty’s youthful antics and the warmness of watching siblings grow up right before intermission. A radio announcement about Pearl Harbor signals the beginning of World War II. And the lights cut. The audience is left to sit with the grim taste of disaster in their mouths, while they await the second act.

Act two starts on a somber note. America’s boys have been shipped off to fight a war their country didn’t want a part of, and America’s women have to take up the torch of responsibility to avoid the crushing loneliness. The Andrews Sisters do their part to help the cause, and it is here as the story of national struggle meets personal crisis that the actors in this show get their chance to shine. During the war, the sister trio toured through Europe, singing to the G.I.’s, and taking special attention to sing to the injured. Baer offers one of the most moving performances I have ever seen as she sings “I Can Dream Can’t I” to a wounded soldier and his friend. Her vocal range, sincerity of expression, and commitment to her role transport you out of the theater, and into that hospital room in Europe. You are there, hurting with that soldier, bemoaning his loss, wishing him well.

Another fantastic performance is that of Laudeman during “I’ll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time.” While singing to the enlisted men preparing to go to the Pacific (and after forcing the officer in command to allow the colored men to sit down front, in the officers’ seats), Maxine gets a telegram. From the look on her face, you can tell she’s smothering in emotion. Throughout the whole song, she sings her part while maintaining that emotional tension. As the song closes, she shares that the telegram states that the War is over, and the boys are going home. Again, you want to cheer, because you feel like you are there, watching the concert.

Even with the War over, there is still turmoil on the home front. Patty and Maxine have fallen in love with Jewish men, a huge no-go for their Greek Orthodox father. Patty forgoes her love, while Maxine secretly marries hers. La Verne, the always faithful oldest daughter, puts her parent’s interest so far above her own, that she never pursues love. Things should smooth over as the Andrews parents age, and Mrs. Andrews passes away. The loss should bring the sisters together, but career choices, and the decline of Patty’s marriage drive a wedge between the sisters. Through a series of monologues, we find out that the sisters eventually split, pursuing solo careers, but always wishing they could sing together one last time.

This is a moving show for sure. Not only are Corbello, Laudeman, and Baer excellent singers, they are compelling actresses. They give such emotional, driven monologues, and are masters of subtlety. They play out the joys and tensions of being sisters so beautifully. Throughout the whole show, Maxine and Patty’s bickering is underlined by Laudeman’s facial expressions and huffy sighs. And Olivia Corbello! I’m not sure I have ever seen such antics on one woman’s face. She delivers comic relief through the entire show, making faces, dancing, and generally just hamming it up. She has so much fun, and draws you right in.

And I would be remiss as a reviewer if I didn’t mention Rory Dunn. He plays no less than five different men during the show, generally coming out with a new accent or an outrageous costume. He spices up “Beer Barrel Polka” as a blonde-braided Norwegian milkmaid, and “Rum and Coca-Cola” as a scantily clad bar fly. He is comical, and has perfect timing.

Sisters of Swing is an entertaining, moving show you won’t want to miss. The small cast commandeers the stage in an emotional heart-throb of a show. You can see the show Thursday through Sunday at the Round Barn Theater in Nappanee, Indiana. But hurry, you only have until October 14th to catch Sisters of Swing – and you don’t want to miss it!

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About Carly

Life is made up of stories, not atoms. And I like coffee.

Posted on September 10, 2012, in Plays and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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