Monday, June 6, 2011

G.I. Jukebox croons and warbles in Amana

by Andrew Juhl

Amana - The Old Creamery Theatre’s current musical revue, G.I. Jukebox, mimics four performers entertaining troops during the height of World War II at a smaller U.S.O.-style venue. Era-appropriate tunes and medleys are crooned, warbled, or lilted, supported by a three-(sometimes four)-piece jazz ensemble.

I am slightly hesitant to further denigrate my already (likely) low reputation in the minds of this blog’s persistent readers, but I must cop the following: all-but-a-handful of songs in this revue don’t already reside in my iPod. So I was at my toe-tapping happiest on Friday night, sipping a reasonably-priced Blue Moon in the air-conditioned and welcoming Old Creamery Theatre, and for this 29-year-old, ‘twas a great way to spend a few hours.

Unfortunately, I hazard to say I am the exception rather than the rule. Though the show is an obvious draw for the Old Creamery’s typical, elderly-skewed audience, it’s a notably harder sell for those not yet at least quinquagenerians. (Yes, that’s right: “quinquagenerians.” I’ve been playing a lot of Scrabble lately.) While the four principals are all skilled singers, decent dancers, and beautiful harmonizers, they are little more than talking set pieces in the context of the overall show. They are nonentities, characters without character or arc, existing solely as a means of conveying the next medley to the stage. While this is all well-and-good (even expected) in a standard musical revue, it actually hurts a niche show like G.I. Jukebox, doing very little to interest theatregoers who have no emotional memories (or, in many cases, even a base recollection) of the playful ditties and poignant ballads on display. Proof of this came via a few quick looks through the audience during the show and noting that the handful of teens and preteens in the audience were either asleep or—nope, they were all asleep. Even the lone non-sung comedy sketch wasn’t enough to pull their interests.

Perhaps this is a consequence of the relative disconnect our nation’s youth feel from war. Maybe the routine of constant and concurrent wars, the daily news updates of three more dead soldiers… five more… two more… has made the interpretations of “war” and “war effort” in Gen X, Y, and Z fundamentally incomparable to those of the Greatest Generation, Depression-era children, and the Boomers. “War” has now, more than ever, become an abstract notion, an elective inconvenience, far too often measured in the cost of currency instead of in lives—its warrants not simply debatable, but belligerently contested. Gone is the visceral, life-changing connection of watching returning troops—victorious or on respite—for we know far-too-well how soon they’ll be leaving again. Viewed in this light, is it any wonder the youth in the audience didn’t seem interested in the music, in the lyrical messages, in the original cause of the U.S.O.?

Or maybe there just weren’t enough whipped-cream-shooting brassieres. Who knows?

That being said, if you have an affinity for the type of music sung at U.S.O shows during the WWII era, songs such as “Moonlight Serenade,” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “Mairzy Doats,” and “In the Mood,” this is a show worth seeing. Old Creamery staple Tom Milligan does a great job of directing a Spartan a stage, but equal kudos should go to Deborah Kennedy for injecting consistently simple-but-fun choreography throughout the show. Kennedy also sits-in with the band for a few numbers, but never overshadows the contributions of fellow principals Sean McCall, T.J. Besler, and Kamille Zbanek. The entire foursome maintains the smiles and enthusiasm you’d expect from a real Hope, Benny, or Bacall.

G. I. Jukebox runs through July 3 and is rated Theatre G. Tickets are $27 for adults and $17.50 for students. Show times are Wednesday, Thursdays and Sundays at 3 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. Call the box office at 800-35-AMANA or visit the website at for more information or to purchase tickets.

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