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‘Sisters of Swing’ is sweet trip back in time

Andrews Sisters inspire play that delights Littleton audiences

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One settles into a seat and immediately focuses on the appealing stage, framed by an oversize suggestion of a brightly lit theatre marquee, as Littleton’s Town Hall Arts Center presents “Sisters of Swing.” The marquee curves cozily around the six-piece band, led by music director Donna Kolpan Debreceni on the keys. A screen above that marquee carries projections of 1930s and 1940s vintage images — mostly single photos, but with some old film clips included — all cleverly tied into the story/song at hand. A nice extra production touch to bring the audience into the scene.

In front of the bandstand is a small stage and mic for the vocalists, ready to send music out there — to concert, studio and radio audiences and to troops everywhere …

Minnesotans LaVerne, Maxene and Patty Andrews started traveling in the early 1930s and singing their close harmony arrangements of songs by many writers that were arranged for the Andrews Sisters. “Three Little Fishes” is first to draw the audience into a different world with Katrina Kuntz as LaVerne, the eldest; Alison Mueller as Maxene; and Ellen Kaye as live-wire Patty. Next comes “Dinah.” (“Is there anyone finah …”) Act I ends with “Beer Barrel Polka,” with efforts to polka confined by the small space.

Three men appear as different characters in the sisters’ stories: Scott McLean (Man 1); Zach Stailey (Man 2); and newcomer Mark Snyder Jr. (Man 3).

The sisters win a contest and shortly afterward are left stranded on tour by a dishonest manager, who ran out of money. Some sisterly feuding ensues over sweater ownership and shoes, but they soon get the act together and hit it big time. “Bei Mir Bist Du Schon” (“Means That You’re Grand”) was their first major hit in 1937 and they continued through the 1940s, including another major 1941 hit of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” (an especially nifty band arrangement). They prevailed, with better management and increasing maturity, although squabbling eventually led to a breakup.

During World War II, they entertained troops near and far, well and wounded, showing great patriotism and empathy as they traveled, including one eight-week tour.

Costumes, by widely experienced Linda Morken were carefully conceived for the period and cleverly designed for a number of quick changes — sometimes before our eyes. The men were more conservatively clad — aside from McLean’s goofy number in “Rum and Coca Cola!”

In addition, I’ve enjoyed reading the program about who wrote what — and when. All by different writers, with permission received on each — I can only imagine what a headache that must have been at first, when this musical was written by Beth Gilleland and Bob Beverage, with musical arrangements and continuity by Raymond Berg, based on an idea by original director Ron Peluso. “I’ll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time” and “Count your Blessings” are in the public domain, but each of the remaining songs had to have reproduction permitted by assorted publishers and recording companies …

Not a concern of the happy and nostalgic Town Hall audience, however.

The show is a tightly and imaginatively directed look at who we were some decades ago. Nick Sugar’s spot-on direction and choreography carries talented performers through a body of music that’s part of our history as a nation. And that band is a delight to hear and watch! (Debrecini, keyboard; Jon-Paul Frappier, trumpet; Rob Olds, trombone; Mark Nepi, drums; Bob Rebholz, reeds; Mary Stribling, bass.)

I’m certain my advanced age — I was a teen and dancing to that music once — added to my enjoyment, but it goes well beyond that in appeal.

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