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At the Depot Theatre, Westport, NY, July 13-22, 2001
If you're a fan of the popular songs of World War II, SWINGTIME CANTEEN now playing at the Depot Theatre is for you. If you're not a fan, go see it and you'll become one. The sketchy plot about a USO tour is pretty much just an excuse for the cast of five women and a small on-stage combo to sing and play their way through all the great tunes from the 1940s - from a medley of Andrews Sisters hits to the emotional favorite, "I'll Be Seeing You".
As usual David Berendes' set and lighting design look great and make the space seem bigger than it is, and there's a lot of musical talent up on that tiny stage. It's great to hear Sam McPherson's bass and Craig Johnson Jr.'s drums added to Norma Curley's always sparkling piano. This production also marks Ms. Curley's acting debut at the Depot - and she sings too! The women all sound good, both separately and together. Among them they play bass, guitar, clarinet, and, on purpose, one of the most horrendous sax solos I've ever heard.
Dominique Plaisant does a beautiful job on "A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square." Goldie Dver has great fun with "Daddy", and Joanna Parson avoids the trap of sentimentality on "I'll Be Seeing You" by wisely playing against it. Kristin Johansen was a standout in both her monologue and singing "How High the Moon". They all sounded really good on the harmony in the finale.
I have a couple of bones to pick, though, with Director James Beamon. First, there are wrong lyrics being sung in the show and with material this well known it's jarring. Perhaps it's the fault of the writers - if so, they should be told. Also, although the music is good the dialogue scenes, particularly the air raid, are weak. Finally, it would have helped acoustically on the group numbers if the singers had been clustered tight around the mike in the style of the period.
Enough quibbling - the show's enjoyable and at the performance I saw everyone seemed to have a good time. Fun and nostalgia is a mix that never misses.
By the way, having now explored the Depot further, I've found that not only can you get Bert's homemade jam, local art and Amtrak schedules, but also used books, crocheted baby clothes and hand-made baskets.
To get back on track for the Depot Theatre, (get it?) on a scale of one to five their production of SWINGTIME CANTEEN gets four boxcars. For North Country Public Radio, I'm Connie Meng.