‘The Andrews Brothers’ harmonize back to WW2 for laughs, song and a bit of drag fun
KALAMAZOO, Mich.–The idea of three men in drag doing a riff on The Andrews Sisters as The Andrews Brothers, is pretty fraught with either being frightfully campy or just dreck. But Farmers Alley has taken the show created by Roger Bean and made it a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
The premise of this show is not complicated. The famous Andrews Sisters are scheduled to appear at a World War Two Army base in the South Pacific as part of a USO tour. The USO stage hands are already on the scene and the trio’s costume and prop box has already been delivered. But the sisters are sick and can’t make good on the show.
For symmetry, the stage hands’ names are Patrick (Jeffrey Scott Parsons), Max (Paul Castree) and Lawrence (Jeremy Koch), and they are brothers. The Andrew sisters were, of course, Patty, Maxine and Laverne. The performer who does make it to the island base is Peggy (Denene Mulay Koch), who is modeled after real-life USO performer and film actress Betty Hutton.
Act One establishes the predicament that the brothers are in, and the arrival of Peggy. This gives the boys a chance to show their stuff and perform songs on their own and with Peggy like “GI Jive,” “Rosie The Riveter,” Mairzy Doats,” “On A Slow Boat to China,” and other songs that the Andrews Sisters made famous, as they dance and sing charmingly and imperfectly as the stage hands that really would like to be on stage. It also gives an awkward romance a chance to sprout between Max and Peggy.
Act Two is the actual show that the four have decided to put on in the absence of the real Andrews Sisters and the boys come out in drag as the sisters themselves. This could go horribly wrong as entertainment, except the casting of the show is really first rate. Castree and Parsons are both Actors Equity performers with extensive touring and strong regional experience outside Michigan, and Parsons also doubles as choreographer. Koch, a founding member of the company and frequent performer is also grand, right down to his unshaven legs beneath the stockings in Act Two.
Credit goes to Sarah Maurer and Lissa Hartridge for costume design and Steve Hodges on hair and wig, because the men look wonderful in drag. The make-artist is not credited, but should be. Parsons designed fun choreography for the trio, and they are all more than up to making it work in a way that makes the audience laugh and tap their feet rather than squirm. Denene Mulay Koch, too, does a solid turn with her usual bright and fluid vocals and she shows her dancing chops as well.
The first act is a tad long, but it’s a small price to pay for the big payoff in Act Two.
The second act songs, put on as if performed for the troops include some of The Andrews Sisters genuine classics, like “Rum and Coca-Cola,” “Six Jerks in a Jeep,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” and “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree.”
A particular fun moment was when the cast plucked two men from the audience to come on stage. This kind of thing can go sideways, but worked out terrifically on opening night with two men who couldn’t have been happier to be chosen and were pretty light on their feet and having a ball.
One wonders if a show like this, rooted in another time and era, including time-capsule songs like “The Cock-Eyed Mayor of Kaunakakai,” which makes very awkward comedic sport of Westerners’ view of South Pacific natives, will last much beyond the 75th anniversary of World War Two.
But for now, and a little while longer at least, the silly trip back to the early 1940s with music, provided by a first–class orchestra led by music director Marie McColley Kerstetter, will get you tapping your feet to some classic songs we usually only hear now on juke boxes in old diners where the senior folks hang out, and laughing at some good old sight gags worthy of a real USO show from the time.