IF YOU GO
What: Bumbling stagehands fill in for the Andrews Sisters during a USO show
When: Tuesday through Sunday evenings with selected matinées through Dec. 25.
Where: 1380 Colonial Boulevard, Fort Myers
Information: 239-278-4422 or broadwaypalm.com
Something Else: Ticket prices include meal & show; show-only tickets available
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
1380 Colonial Boulevard, Fort Myers, FL
FORT MYERS — For at least one act, I thought the Off-Broadway Palm's season-opener, "The Andrews Brothers," might cure my aversion to jukebox musicals. Alas, not even a trio of likable blokes, one curvaceous brunette and a double fistful of bouncy pop hits of yesteryear - including many from the Andrews Sisters - scattered amidst a colorful USO show setting can overcome moments when the plot disappears entirely.
Prolific writer Roger Bean created "The Andrews Brothers" and a handful of other jukebox musicals - including last season's "Winter Wonderettes" - flavored with the music of a particular period. Shows come light on plot and heavy on music, jokes, broad acting and silly gags.
"Brothers" tells the story of a USO crew left high and dry when the Andrews Sisters don't show, leaving three bumbling stagehands and one backup singer to entertain the troops. There are coconut bras and grass skirts involved, as well as three wigs, three pairs of falsies and some very large beige pumps. Those troops got quite a show - I just hope no one asked for a kiss!
The show - a breezy two hours - serves up a crisp, humor-filled first act where the stagehands (Lynx Murphy, Sean Riley and Galloway Stevens) try to deceive singer Peggy (Katherine Walker Hill) while they wait for the real Andrews Sisters to show. Patriotic numbers like "Rosie the Riveter" sparkle, while "Peggy the Pin-up Girl" shows off the male trio's vocal talents.
A Hawaiian-inspired medley - in the grass skirts and improvised bongo drums - brings spontaneous applause and shows off the boogie-woogie song "Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar." If you're not laughing, you're going out on a board.
Much of the promise gets squandered during the second act - which features the boys in drag. "Brothers" can't resist going for a succession of cheap, slapstick laughs (flashing underwear, wobbling heels, staring at chests) at the expense of solid writing. At times, the gags threaten to overwhelm the tunes, including "Three Little Sisters," "Here Comes the Navy" and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy."
Comical Andrews Sisters number "Six Jerks in a Jeep," which appeared in the film "Private Buckaroo," gets the full treatment as an audience participation number, with horn-beeping and harmony. Cute, funny - and the crowd of pensioners ate it up - never mind the fact that the number (and "I Want to Linger" afterward) makes no sense within the context of the show.
A superb quartet of performers lifts the slight material to terrific heights. Stevens radiates charisma in pants or a dress and sells the comical "(I'm Getting) Corns for My Country," which appeared in 1944 film "Hollywood Canteen."
Hill has a bell-like voice and shifts from music to comedy to straight-up slapstick with ease. Wait till you hear her purr during "Slow Boat to China."
Sean Riley captures the humor of stuttering Patrick and breezes through novelty song "Mairzy Doats." Lynx Murphy brings continual laughs through the night as nearsighted Lawrence - and watching him wobble in heels is a true sight.
Jim Conti's costumes reflect the quick-change needs of the show - not the bold red-white-and-blue explosion audiences might expect from a USO show. Hill gets a spangled number with gold epaulets and the first drag number features a forest of tropical prints. Otherwise, color comes from vibrant backdrops that roll through the background - a painting of Rosie the Riveter, a pinup girl, a massive battleship and an Uncle Sam from the famous war bonds poster.
"The Andrews Brothers" features a solid cast giving voice to great tunes. The show's plot might not be riveting - but the musical tour of the 1940s and the superb voices rate a trip to the USO canteen.
Insert obligatory funny comment here. E-mail me, email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.