A Fitting Tribute to the Andrews Sisters

09Apr08

Sisters of Swing at Stoneham Theatre through May 4

You don’t have to be a member of the Greatest Generation to enjoy Sisters of Swing, the tribute to the Andrews Sisters currently playing at Stoneham Theatre.

But considering that the Andrews Sisters sold over 90 million records, had more Top Ten hits than the Beatles or Elvis and paved the way for all the girl groups that followed, Sisters of Swing is a worthwhile take for grandparents and grandchildren and anyone in between.

The three performers who play the sisters all have voices that do justice to the harmonies that the girls made famous with hits like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” and “Rum and Coca Cola.” And although much can be accomplished with talent, makeup and wigs, it appears that an effort was also made to cast in each role a performer who bears at least a passing physical resemblance to the Andrews sister she is playing.

Laura DeGiacomo as Patty, Kerri Jill Garbis as LaVerne and Kimberly Robertson as Maxene Andrews share the stage almost equally, although DeGiacomo, as de facto lead singer Patty, probably gets a shade more of the spotlight than her co-stars.

Veteran stage actor Steve Gagliastro plays a variety of male roles in the show, from the Andrews Sisters’ Manager, Lou Levy to Bing Crosby, with whom the girls frequently performed and recorded. Gagliastro also provides a comic touch with some over-the-top physical comedy, appearing in drag as a German barmaid and as a belly dancer.
Sisters of Swing
Sisters of Swing is not some touring company stopping by for a brief engagement. The main cast is made up of local performers with extensive Boston and regional theater credits. While director/choreographer Robert Jay Cronin is now based in New York City, he was born and raised in Arlington.

Cronin lets the music speak for itself, following the Sisters from their childhood in Minnesota, through their heyday in the 1940s to their up and down personal and professional lives in the 1950s and ‘60s. The simple set features three tall panels covered with photos of the trio, with a video screen in the center showing a steady stream of black and white stills and film footage of the real Andrews Sisters at points in their careers that correspond to the action on stage.

Behind the panels, barely visible through a screen, are five members of the six-piece band that provides the instrumental accompaniment to the girls’ vocals. Rick Copeland plays the trombone; Tim Cote blows the trumpet; Heather Katz-Cote handles the reeds; Mick Lewander is on percussion; and Ben Stevens plays Bass. Out front with the sisters is the show’s Music Director Justin Hatchimonji on piano. He also plays a small but key speaking role as Vic Schoen, the Andrews Sisters’ band leader, composer and musical arranger.

In stark contrast to today, the Andrews Sisters represented a time when show business performers were proud Americans who were not afraid to display their patriotism. Aside from their record breaking concert tours, the trio volunteered their time – traveling the world during World War II, entertaining the troops on the battlefield and at military hospitals. Heard everywhere on radios and jukeboxes, the Andrews Sisters became a cherished institution to a nation at war.

The Andrews Sisters didn’t just inspire and lift up a nation at a time of depression and war. Countless other girl groups, including the Lennon Sisters, the Supremes, the Pointer Sisters and Destiny’s Child owe a huge debt to the Andrews Sisters.

After you see Sisters of Swing at Stoneham Theatre, you’ll understand why.

Sisters of Swing runs through May 4 at Stoneham Theatre,
395 Main St. Stoneham. For tickets and show times go online at http://www.stonehamtheatre.org/ or phone 781-279-2200.

Sisters of Swing, by Beth Gilleland and Bob Beverage. Based on an idea by Ron Peluso. Musical arrangements by Raymond Berg. Directed and Choreographed by Robert Jay Cronin. Music Director, Justin Hatchimonji. Costume Designer, Kurt S. Hultgren. Associate Director, Corey Jackson. Set Design, Audra Avery. Production Manager, Dave Brown. Lighting Design, Jeff Adelberg. Production Stage manager, Sarah Hilary Johnson. Associate Choreographer, Ellen Peterson.

[This review originally appeared in the Wakefield Daily Item.]

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