Amana – Old Creamery’s The Andrews Brothers is set in 1945 on a remote island in the South Pacific. It’s the night before the soldiers move out, and the USO plans to put on a spectacular show. New pin-up gal Peggy Jones is to be the opening act for the Andrews Sisters singing group, the sister act which kept our boys entertained during World War II. Meanwhile, the Andrews brothers: Max, Lawrence, and Patrick, are the 4F stagehands hired by the unseen General Wilson to help the gals keep the show moving along. They’ve got a secret: they really want to be ON the stage! The first act showcases their talent in a variety of WWII era songs like “G. I. Jive” and “Peggy the Pin-Up Girl.”
Peggy Jones (Ali Foley) agrees to help the boys be part of her act and they practice together on several fun numbers; “Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet!” and “Rosie the Riveter” are a lot of fun. Each boy is set up with a problem in act one that pays off humorously in act two: Max (Vaughn Irving) is the leader of the gang, but he has two left feet. Lawrence (Ryan Gaffney) is a near-sighted Mr. Magoo who has trouble with some of the lyrics because “The words are so small!” Patrick (Zack Steele) is asthmatic and tongue-tied around women.
But just before the 2nd act, tragedy! LaVerne Andrews has chicken pox, the Andrews Sisters are all in quarantine, and the show is going to be canceled. What to do? This is Peggy’s and the Andrews boys’ big break! But wait….the Andrews Sisters’ costumes and props have already arrived! And they just happen to fit Lawrence/LaVerne, Max/Maxine, and Patrick/Patty!
Ali Foley’s Peggy was a gal with moxie—it was her idea that the boys could play the Andrews Sisters so as not to disappoint the soldiers, as long as they stayed far away; she helped each boy with his problem (dance lesson cards for Max, cue cards for Lawrence, and tongue twister practice for Patrick). Her dance moves were superb, and her singing voice was sweet and pure. Unfortunately that voice wasn’t quite up to all of the songs; her rendition of “Stuff Like That There” made me long for Kelly Clarkson’s belt of that tune from season 1 of “American Idol.”
Act II is where the laughs really got going. Not because men in dresses are inherently funny, as artistic director Sean McCall’s letter to the audience claims—after all, we’re living in the age of Caitlyn Jenner, not Max Klinger. But to Old Creamery’s credit, the cross-dressing itself isn’t played for laughs. It’s the pratfalls and mugging that make the show fun. We’re all so proud of Max/Maxine when he finally gets his feet in rhythm and does a stunning tap routine. Lawrence/LaVerne has some of the funniest lines in songs, when he can’t read the words on his cue cards and sings “You get in your boot….and then I sing a word that rhymes with ‘boot’!” And Patrick/Patty gets over his stuttering by becoming more comfortable around Peggy—to the point of falling in love. (Because of course there’s a love interest. Didn’t Bing Crosby always fall for Dorothy Lamour?)
Gaffney, Irving, and Steele’s harmonies were tight and their energy was infectious. Steele and Foley had just the right amount of chemistry for a light romance. The boogie woogie dancing on the part of all four cast members was so much toe-tapping fun.
Vaughn Irving’s Max was the straight man of the show and self-appointed leader of the group. His transformation from the guy who stepped on Peggy’s feet to the all-star tapper was a lot of fun.
Ryan Gaffney’s Lawrence was the comic relief; his goony bird dancing added an extra touch of humor to the numbers.
Zack Steele did a great job with playing tongue tied Patrick. The character stutters, which could have been played too broadly, but he had just the right amount of sensitivity to pull it off without being offensive. He also, for what it’s worth, looked the best in the dress.
Tim Daugherty (music director/piano), Derek Dreier (drums), and Genji Onishi (bass) as the backup band were a tight trio who never overwhelmed the singers and always kept things moving. Isn’t it wonderful how in a musical the band always knows exactly the right song to play?
Will audience members get pulled up on stage? Yes. Will people trip over random things and land with their skirts around their ears and their boxer shorts showing? Of course. Will you leave the theatre wondering what ever happened to great music like that and thinking that war sure seemed like a lot of fun? Yes, you will.
The Andrews Brothers plays at the Old Creamery Theatre main stage, 39 38th Avenue, Amana, through June 28. Productions are Wednesday, Thursdays, and Sundays at 2pm, and Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm. Call 319-62AMANA or visit www.oldcreamery.com for tickets.