Plaids in Drag, Plus a Blond

Mention the Andrews Sisters to most of today’s youth, and you’re likely to get a blank stare. They’re of a generation that has never seen the singing sisters, and their parents have likely only seen the sisters on TV. Perhaps their grandparents might remember them. Today’s youths are more likely to have heard of the Williams Sisters or the Jonas Brothers. However, in their day (the 1940s) they were one of the best known singing groups — and more importantly for the purposes of this post, provided extensive entertainment for Allied forces overseas, touring regularly for the U.S.O. . I mention this because last night we saw the Andrews Sisters on stage. OK, we didn’t, we saw an incredibly accurate facsimile. OK, we didn’t, but we did see an incredible facsimile. Perhaps I should explain….

Last night, we saw the second show of the Cabrillo Music Theatre, “The Andrews Brothers”. “Andrews Brothers” is a jukebox musical written by Roger Bean, an expert in this particular genre of musical. Roger has also done the extremely popular musicals “The Marvelous Wonderettes” and “Life Could Be a Dream”, and so the audience going in knows (a) they will be entertained and (b) plot doesn’t matter. This is a good thing, trust me.

The plot of “Andrews Brothers” exists only to set up the music. Three brothers (Lawrence, Max, and Patrick) are in the South Pacific working as the stage crew for the U.S.O., preparing for the last show of the famous Andrews Sisters at a remote naval base, where the troops are shipping off to the war zone the next day. The stage manager, Max, receives a telegram that the backup singers for the sisters cannot make the show, and to arrange something. The show opens to find Max rehearsing with Peggy Jones, the pinup-girl talent for the show, having convinced Peggy that Max and his brothers are the backup singers. This goes on for most of the first act, until eventually (a) a telegram is revealed indicating the the Andrews Sisters cannot make it, and (b) the boys are figured out for who they are. The brothers and Peggy decide that the show must go on, and since the sister’s costumes are there and the brothers know the dance moves… it was time to do RuPaul proud. The second act is that U.S.O. show with the brothers playing the sisters. At the end of the act, it is reavealed to the troops that the real talent was the brothers, and they come out and do a medley of Andrews Sisters’ hits.

As the above summary makes clear, the story is scaffolding. There’s no depth there, but it provides just enough bones to string a collection of wonderful music. The audience knows this going in, luckily, so the story doesn’t make a difference. Additionally, the show includes a bit of audience participation, which is always good to energize an audience (and is quite funny to watch). What really makes this show succeed or fail, however, is the cast. Get a good cast, you get a good show. Luckily, Cabrillo has an outstanding cast. The reason for this is that the color of the Cabrillo cast is not Army green or Navy khaki, but plaid.

The heart of “The Andrews Brothers” at Cabrillo is Forever Plaid. Well, ¾s of Forever Plaid, for the brothers are played by 3 long-time Plaids: Stan Chandler (Lawrence Andrews), David Engel (Max Andrews), and Larry Raben (Patrick Andrews). This made the first act of the show a bit of “The Plaids Go To War”, but that’s a good thing, because these three actors are extremely talented and a joy to watch. We have seen them on before, not only at Cabrillo, but at venues such as late, lamented Pasadena Playhouse (where I remember Stan well for his performance in Once a Kingdom). The talented trio was rounded out with Darcie Roberts (Peggy Jones), another talented actor, singer, and dancer, who we have also seen before on the Southern California stage. The talents of this group ensure the music is great, the dancing is fun, and oh, who cares about the plot :-).

The production was pulled together by Nick Degruccio, an extremely talented musical director who knows how to get the best out of his cast. If it is an outstanding musical in Southern California, odds are that Nick was involved. Combine this with the choreography of Roger Castellano, and you can’t lose. The presentation was helped by the technical talents of Cabrillo regulars T. Theresa Scarano (Production Manager), Jonathan Burke (Sound Design), Paul Hadobas (Hair/Wig Design), and Cabrillo newcomer Christina L. Munich (Lighting Design). They created a set that evoked a WWII Navy island camp (think South Pacific) during the first act, and a makeshift stage in the second. The lighting deserves a few special comments. Although there was extensive use of follow spots (a Cabrillo trademark, and more of a problem due to spillover in the balcony), there was also some quite effective use of gobos—both to provide flooring effects in the first act and to provide curtain effects in the second act. Sets and costumes were from the Musical Theatre West production. Music was provided by the Cabrillo Music Theatre Orchestra, under the musical direction of Lloyd Cooper, contracted by Darryl W. Tanikawa. The production was staged managed by the “ever capable”TM Lindsay Martens, assisted by Allie Roy, who had the unenvious job of riding herd on the craziness onstage and making it come off perfect.

In a move a bit unusual for Cabrillo, there was pre-show entertainment and intermission entertainment in the form of period newsreels (created by Steve Glaudini, David Engel, and Nick DeGruccio). These also featured aged footage of Harry Selvin and his orchestra… and the opening featured aged footage of the usual opening speaker Carole W. Nussbaum (CEO of Cabrillo) discussing the remainder of the season. I’ll note this show was unusual for Cabrillo in another way: it had a 100% equity cast, with no local Cabrillo on-stage talent, and as such was more of a touring production than Cabrillo normally does. Is this a sign of the economy? I have no idea.

The Andrews Brothers” has its last performance on the Cabrillo stage tonight. Upcoming Cabrillo productions for this season are: “Little Shop of Horrors” (April 23 – May 2, 2010) and “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” (July 23 – August 1, 2010).

Upcoming Theatre. As for us, what’s upcoming on the theatre calendar? Next weekend sees us running between three theatres: Saturday evening sees us in North Hollywood for Interact Theatre’s “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the NoHo Arts Center, with Sunday afternon bringing “Ray Bradbury’s Wisdom 2116” at the Fremont Theatre Center in South Pasadena, and Sunday evening bringing the February installment of “Meeting of Minds (Episode 23 with Jean Smart as Catherine the Great, Ian Buchanan as Oliver Cromwell, and James Handy as Daniel O’Connell) at the Steve Allen Theatre in Hollywood. The last week of February is open, and may remain that way as we’re seeing our congregation’s Purim Schpeil on Sunday evening. March starts with The Story of My Life” at the Havok Theatre on March 6 @ 8pm (where we’ll be joined by shutterbug93). March 14 brings “On Golden Pond” at REP East, and March 21 will be “Meeting of Minds”. April brings more of potential interest, mostly unscheduled, including Jacques Brel is Alive and Living in Paris” at the Colony Theatre (likely April 10 or April 16), “Damn Yankees” at Van Nuys HS (April 15-17), the April installment of “Meeting of Minds” at the Steve Allen Theatre on April 18, “12 Angry Men” at REP East (likely April 24), and the So Cal Ren Faire (either April 25 or May 16). May looks to be equally busy, with “Little Shop of Horrors at Cabrillo Music Theatre (May 1), See What I Wanna See” at the Blank (likely May 9), The 39 Steps” at the Ahmanson (likely May 15), the May installment of “Meeting of Minds” at the Steve Allen Theatre (May 16), the Spring Dance Show at Van Nuys HS (May 20-22), and “The Wedding Singer” at Repertory East Playhouse in Newhall (likely May 30).

As always: live theatre is a gift and a unique experience, unlike a movie. It is vitally important in these times that you support your local arts institutions. If you can afford to go to the movies, you can afford to go to theatre. If you need help finding ways, just drop me a note and I’ll teach you some tricks. Lastly, I’ll note that nobody paid me anything to write this review. In fact, I receive no remuneration for any reviews I write.