After 18 years as the reigning star at MGM, you've been asked to play Van Johnson's mother. As a former debutante, you've grown tired of riveting. You're an ambitious, leggy sexpot looking for an agent. You want to find your GI husband, who was sent to the South Pacific. You're a stand-in out of a job. If you were one of these five women, what would you do? Go on a USO tour to London, of course, and play piano, beat the drums, wave the flag, and sing and dance your hearts out to our boys in uniform during World War II. It's the American way-- and nothing could be more patriotic or downright entertaining than Swingtime Canteen.
Writers Linda Thorsen Bond, William Repicci, and Charles Busch have found the right balance between story and song. They've created five witty, fully realized women who genuinely care about one another, therefore we care about them. That's quite an accomplishment considering the show runs a fast hour and 45 minutes without intermission, plus they sing more than 30 songs. Director Alyson Reed keeps things humming smoothly across the bandstand stage, designed by Tom Buderwtiz. Jose M. Rivera has created feminine, functional costumes that look beautiful under Paulie Jenkins' lighting. Those gals look great-- and can they ever sing, sing, sing those fabulous 1940s tunes!
Whether performing with the Big Band or going a cappella, these talented singer/actors deliver the goods. It's the ballads that move us the most. The solos by Rende Rae Norman ("A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square"), Tami Tappan Damiano ("I Don't Want to Walk Without You"), and Amy Elizabeth Jones ("My Shining Hour") tug at our heartstrings. Natalie Nucci breaks the spell with her hubba-hubba knockout version of "Daddy." She's all over the piano with a dress split up to there. When the Andrew Sisters are unexpectedly quarantined in Malta, the ladies fill in nicely with a 12-song medley of their hits, from "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" to "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree." It's absolutely swell.
Those who want to pack up their troubles in their old kit bag and smile can't do better than this show, and there's hot java in the lobby.