Los Angeles Theater Review: THE ANDREWS BROTHERS (Glendale Centre Theatre)

by Samuel Garza Bernstein on July 9, 2017

in Theater-Los Angeles

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BOOGIE WOOGIE BUGLE GIRLS OF THE U.S.O.

Deanna Durbin is all but forgotten now, but there was a time when her movie musicals were so popular, they were said to have literally saved Universal from bankruptcy. In 1936, before Durbin became famous, MGM was choosing between two young singers under contract, and decided to drop Durbin. Universal snapped her up, and her quick rise to international fame made MGM bitterly regret choosing the wrong girl. (The one they kept was a pudgy no-talent named Frances Gumm a.k.a. Judy Garland.)

The thing I loved about Durbin films is that the characters she played were almost always actual singers in the story. No one pretended that her soaring lyric soprano was just a hobby or nothing special. In other musicals of the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, it was always stupid when Judy Garland (or Jane Powell, or Doris Day, or Kathryn Grayson, or any of the rest of them) had to modestly say some variation of, “I guess I can sing a little.” A little? Seriously?

Which brings me to Roger Bean’s jukebox musical The Andrews Brothers. The set-up is simple enough. On a South Seas island, three U.S.O. stagehands (brothers Patrick, Max, and Lawrence) hope to sing backup for a visiting singer, who is the opening act to the much more famous Andrews Sisters. When the Sisters fall ill, the show must go on, and the three Andrews Brothers dress in drag and pretend to be Patty, Maxine, and Laverne Andrews.

The music is beautifully sung and hats off to sound designer Alex Mackyol who skillfully manages the mix.

But like Deanna Durbin’s contemporaries (the singers who weren’t officially singing), the men playing the Andrews Brothers have lots of lines about how they can’t sing and are afraid of performing. They usually say things like that before or after singing in gorgeous harmony, confidently performing numbers like “Rosie the Riveter” and “Peggy the Pin-Up Girl.”

The first act is the plot heavy set-up. Director/choreographers Orlando Alexander and Danny Michaels have chosen an earnest, literal approach to Patrick (Jason Webb) and his debilitating stutter and compulsive shyness around women; to Lawrence (Patrick Foley) and his inability to remember lyrics; and to Max (John David Wallis) and his two left feet. Taking all those plot devices so seriously threatens to sink an otherwise buoyant evening.

The second act is all U.S.O. show. Once freed from the conventions of the first act, Jason Webb exhibits a genuine flair for the kind of meta wink that can make pastiche feel fresh and vibrant. When he comes out in drag as Patty Andrews, and inhabits both realities—a character dressed up as a woman, but more importantly, an actor in front of a live audience playing that fictional man dressing as a woman, he becomes an absolute joy to watch.

Colette Peters plays Peggy, the singer who gets the idea that the brothers should pretend to be the actual Andrews Sisters. Peters has her own meta moment, in “On a Slow Boat to China,” when her character is falling in love with Patrick. As Peters does the amusingly detailed job of putting together a boat set piece that floats around the stage, she poses for audience applause, acknowledging her own feat as an actress. She sings like a dream, and her dancing is lovely, if a trifle careful. I’d love to see her cut loose.

Perhaps the most enjoyable sequence in the show is “Six Jerks in a Jeep” and “I Want to Linger” when two older gentlemen are recruited from the audience and featured in the two songs. On the night I attended, kudos to Russell and Lynn, having a blast becoming part of the show. The props and movement that come together to create the jeep are funny and ingenious, and everyone on stage seems to be acknowledging the parallel realities that make this kind of entertainment work.

The Glendale Centre Theatre is in the round, and it’s not the best fit for the material. U.S.O. shows of World War II were very presentational, with everyone facing one direction. That said, Alexander and Michaels do a fine job of making sure all four sides of the theater get something to look at throughout. And there’s not a bad song in the bunch.

photos by Ashley Caven courtesy of Glendale Centre Theatre

The Andrews Brothers
Glendale Centre Theatre
324 N. Orange St. in Glendale
ends on August 12, 2017
for tickets, call 818 244-8481 or visit GCT

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