The “Good War” had a great score, and some of the best WWII jukebox tunes are drafted for Roger Bean’s “The Andrews Brothers,” a splashy sendup of a South Pacific USO tour. The plot is foorey-acky-sacky, and much of the broad humor is of a flatfoot (floogie with a floy-floy) variety. But high spirits, combined with an essential respect for America’s wartime experience, prompted smiles galore in show’s brief Musical Theater West Long Beach engagement.
Bean’s means, employed to pleasing effect in the local long-run “Marvelous Wonderettes,” are to set up interesting interactions among lightly satirical characters, while they run through a particular era’s songbook. Here, three original members of “Forever Plaid” (an earlier hit in the same vein) play a trio of stagestruck 4Fs called upon to stand in for the no-show Andrews Sisters, lipstick, upswept hair, padded shoulders and all.
Wartime film farces inspire the predominant mode of slapstick, with each brother endowed with one trait and one (supposedly) amusing drawback. Nerdy Lawrence (Stan Chandler) needs to read lyrics off index cards; cocky Max (David Engel) has two left feet; and the stutter of shy Patrick (Larry Raben) impedes his romance with USO chorine Peggy Jones (Darcie Roberts) as much as it does his singing.
The assigned quirks are more labored than funny, and once established are quickly dropped to better sell the songs. A desire to ac-cen-chu-ate the positive leads Bean and helmer Nick DeGruccio to stint on the healthy tension at the heart of the great Abbott and Costello or Hope and Crosby laff fests, so where the brothers’ repartee should sizzle, it tends to fizzle.
Still, it’s the musical numbers that matter, delivered with enough musicianship and flair to make even the crustiest top sergeant forgive the clunky context. Choreographer Roger Castellano sends his trio truckin’ and jivin’ through novelty song and swing tune alike, their extended drag act carried out with the light-hearted good taste one associates with Lemmon and Curtis in “Some Like It Hot” — the wobbling on heels, the innocent bosom humor.
Speaking of heels, Roberts can carry off cartwheels in hers. Her period-correct zaftig, Frances Langford quality would easily qualify her as a G.I.’s dream, then or now.
All four voices blend in dreamy, creamy harmony backed up by John Glaudini’s combo of nine, abetted by sound designer Julie Ferrin to create the illusion of a big band twice their number.
Potentially dicey issue of the contrast between the war back then and the war being fought today is deftly finessed. Unabashed patriotism of 1940s video clips shown as pre-show and intermission fodder, and tacitly carried through in the show itself, makes no apology. They’re doing it for — and in memory of — “the boys.”
Audiences of every political stripe can celebrate the sacrifices of America’s military men and women, while tapping their toes to the beat that once sustained a nation.