The Andrews Brothers by Roger Bean. Directed by Bert Bernardi.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Trey Compton, Ryan Halsaver, Lara Hayhurst, and Tom Garruto; photo provided
"With a moon big and shiny."
The new, silly, musical called "The Andrews Brothers" tells the story of three men unable to serve in the military, and also brothers, who work as stagehands for USO troops in the South Pacific. They meet a woman, Peggy, who is the opening act for the world famous Andrews Sisters, Patty, Laverne and Maxine, and they are smitten with her and she with them when they step in to perform backup for her set. The men, Patrick, Lawrence and Max, do harmony like their female counterparts and when a disaster strikes the three guys agree - reluctantly - to replace the disease-downed sisterly trio. Unfortunately they agree to do so disguised as the Andrews Sisters.
Thatís the plot and Iím not giving anything away with that summary for the title of the show tells you everything you need to know. This little four character musical is fast becoming the most produced show of the year with productions all over the map from San Diego to Chicago to New Lebanon, New York where I saw it. At the Theater Barn the production is geared to the talent on hand for the season and in some cases thatís a good thing and in others it isnít.
Least interesting in this play is Tom Garruto as Max. His big problem is his inability to genuinely sing. He belts out a tortured note, then another one and then a third. Finally his voice drifts into a semi-somnambulant state and the lovely trio harmony is lost forever, but at least we donít have to hear his loud voice dominate in that toneless way. In fact, it is the lack of harmony that drives this show downward. As nothing is made of that fact I can only conclude that in other productions elsewhere this is not the case.
Peggy and Patrick, played by Lara Hayhurst and Ryan Halsaver, duet sweetly on "On a Slow Boat to China" in the first act, establishing a romantic atmosphere that the two manage to keep going through Act Two. It is clear from the beginning of the show that Hayhurstís Peggy is really only interested in her career, but her minor swerve into romance is a lovely and touching aspect of the show. Hayhurst manages all this without a single double take, that exaggerated reaction that is ever so often jarring, and she wants to move on, but her deeper feelings hold her back. Hayhurst is especially wonderful in the "I Want to Linger" number, a classic Andrews Sisters song with an added voice for Peggy.
Halsaverís character is shy, stutters, takes odd jobs as a living billboard and he genuinely seems to have fun playing on stage. The actor here is able to condense a lot of feelings and transitions into his music and thatís good. On the flip side, however, weíd love to see him take the pratfalls and endure the scorn and then move on to another town, another country. A little of him can go a long way. His voice is decent and his movement unextraordinary, yet he is fun to watch and to hear in this show.
Lara Hayhurst plays Peggy with joy, with verve and an extra-sensitive larynx and pharynx. She sings up a storm and makes the most of Peggy both before and during the show that gets performed in Act Two. It is surprising that her voice, unmiked, does not carry across the footlights. In fact, no oneís does in this production.
Trey Compton plays Lawrence, the shortest and funniest Andrews. He plays the role with style and a true comicís use for simple props. His eyeglasses become one of the most overused of costume pieces and as they appear and disappear, as with this pieces of paper, each appearance is sweeter and funnier than the last. If there is a talent carrying this show it is Comptonís.
Abe Phelps set is practical and provides just enough sense of place to make sense. Allen Phelps lighting employs the homespun and amateur effects that one would assume possible in the South Pacific in 1945. Jimmy Johansmeyerís costumes are both fitting and fun, particularly in the second act.
This is not director Bert Bernardiís best work. Whether or not this is due to the material or other factors is not known. I just look forward to more work from him in the future with a finer result.
Popular now, this show may not survive another decade. If the Andrews Sisters music is your cup of tea, see the show. You may occasionally wonder what happened to the melody line; you may suddenly suspect thereís a harmony thief somewhere. You will hear some gems of the period. It may be enough just to have so many songs sung in a single evening. It may be.
The Andrews Brothers plays at the Theater Barn on Route 20 in New Lebanon, New York through August 21. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-794-8989.