When is a play not a play?
When it’s a concert.
Because concerts have no plots, and plays have plots
That’s the argument some have made against the recent rise of so-called “Juke box musicals,” shows that are basically just a catalog of songs from a specific artist, time period, or style. Now, to be sure, there are good Juke box musicals and what separates those from bad jukebox musicals is, yes, a sense of plot, but also the presence of strong characters we actually care about. That’s something, I would argue, that is even more important than plot.
Which brings me to ‘The Andrews Brothers,’ now running at the Lucky Penny Community Arts Center in Napa.
Essentially a two act playlist of songs made popular by the 1940’s pop trio The Andrews Sisters, the show—directed with an obvious love of the Three Stooges by Barry Martin, Heather Buck and Scottie Woodard—would fail as a play were it not for the well-wrought character work of the cast.
It’s 1945, somewhere in the South Pacific, hours before a USO show featuring the famous Andrews Sisters. Three brothers, Max, Lawrence, and Patrick—all also named Andrews—are in a panic. They are the stagehands for the local USO unit, though they long for a chance to show off their own singing skills. The opening act, an American pin-up girl named Peggy Jones, needs three male backup singers, and the boys have boldly decided that they will do the job, if they don’t get fired first.
Matt Davis, Scottie Woodard, and Adam Blankenship are charming as the bumbling brothers, and as Peggy, Andrea Dennison-Laufer, is the perfect blend of bombshell and sweetheart.
She not only does not have the brothers fired, she forms an instant crush on one of them. The first act is the rehearsal, as the foursome sing their way through wartime hits like Rosie the Riveter, Cuanto Le Gusta, On a Slow Boat to China, and Accentuate the Positive. Just when it looks like the boys might learn the steps in time to open for the Andrews Sisters, they learn that the main act has the chicken pox, and the show is canceled.
Which is when Peggy decides to dress up the Andrews Brothers AS the Andrews Sisters. And what happens next is the second act, a USO drag show, with outrageous physical comedy, accented by songs from the Andrews Sisters greatest hits, from Shoo Shoo Baby and Three Little Sisters to Six Jerks in a Jeep, At the Canteen, and Stuff Like that There.
That’s the plot, such as it is.
And it works, especially in the second act, where so much giddy goofiness is rolled out, and where the cast is having so much obvious fun, it can’t help but be contagious.
The set by Brian Watson is simple but effective, and includes some delightful roll-out embellishments, the costumes by Barbara McFadden are fabulous, and the lighting design by April George is crisp and clean. The band, under the direction of Craig Burdette, keep things popping, and with a total of 25 songs to accompany in under two hours, they certainly work hard in their tiny crawlspace above the stage.
The Andrews Brothers might not be much of a play, and lets face it, doesn’t really tell all that much of a story, but it does have characters we instantly root for, and that’s plenty to carry the playlist through to the final, surprisingly satisfying, song.
The Andrews Brothers runs through May 1st at Lucky Penny Community Arts Center in Napa. Luckypennynapa.com
I’m David Templeton, Second Row Center, for KRCB.