PROVO — Campy, jukebox musicals are not usually my cup of tea. While it is important to separate a production’s merit from personal taste, I was surprised that in this case, I did not have to. The Covey Center’s The Andrews Brothers is an entertaining and comical delight, and I could not resist being won over.
The Andrews Brothers is a 1940’s USO-style musical written by Roger Bean, known for his hit The Marvelous Wonderettes. The Andrews Brothers features over 25 songs from the popular boogie-woogie American musical group, The Andrews Sisters, including hits such as “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” and “Slow Boat to China.” The plot’s premise involves The Andrews Sisters performing in a planned USO performance, but they are abruptly forced to cancel. With the USO performance in jeopardy, another anticipated performer and popular pin-up girl, Peggy Jones, convinces the three male stagehands, who are also brothers, to pretend to be The Andrews Sisters themselves, and go on with the show. The brothers, all having attained 4-F status and being deemed unfit for military service, long for an opportunity to be on the stage, even if that means they would do this seemingly as women. Hilarity ensues as there is an abundance of goofy humor, mishaps, and cross-dressing. Bean’s script, though simple and exaggerated, is a clever device that exposes the beautifully harmonic music of The Andrews Sisters, as well as provides a glimpse into the WWII USO performances.
Upon entering the Brinton Black Box Theatre, I was overwhelmed by how small the space was for such a high-energy musical. As I watched the audience fill in every available seat, I wondered why this far too intimate space was chosen for this production, instead of the Covey’s larger theatre. As the show began, these tensions grew as what was happening on stage seemed too chaotic to be so close, and one of the actors partially fell onto an audience member. I am sure if I had been in the front row, practically on the stage, I would have been uncomfortable. However, as the show progressed, the space bothered me less, and I wonder if the intimate feeling of community could have contributed to the humor and USO feeling of the piece. Although I would not have chosen to produce this type of musical in this space, I suppose the producers could be justified in their decision to produce this play.
Set designer Dan James made good use of the small space the team had to work with. The small, simple set depicted a practical stage for the USO performance, as well as provided a nice island feel, particularly toward the beginning of the play with the various set pieces. The blue color palette reminded me of the sky and the ocean, setting the mood of the pacific island where the action takes place. This was successfully achieved through the lighting design as well, also by James.
All of the actors in this production deserve praise for their entertaining performances. As Peggy Jones, Briana Shipley was perfect for the role. She played a charmingly sweet and attractive pin-up girl and performer. Her energy was infectious, and Jones was able to interact with the audience wonderfully, holding the crowd’s attention and interest. Equally as notable was Shipley’s chemistry with her fellow actors, particularly Paul McGrew, who played Patrick Andrews. The two share a romantic connection that is enjoyable to see develop. But what I found most gratifying was the chemistry that all three of the brothers shared. McGrew, James Bounous (as Lawrence Andrews), and Brandtley Henderson (as Max Andrews) all worked together nicely to create a brotherly dynamic. I loved seeing the distinct and separate personalities in their characters. I believe Bounous garnered the most laughs with his sarcastic and witty quips. Possibly the best moments of the production are when these brothers clearly depict their discomfort in women’s attire, and when their male behaviors inevitably show up while pretending to be women.
Skye Cummins‘s direction of The Andrews Brothers was successful. It is so easy for this type of comedy to fall flat, but that is not the case in this production. I was impressed with the way the ostensibly silly and slapstick humor never became too corny or overused, but instead steadily built throughout the show to create a hilarious second act. The scenes and musical numbers flow from one to the next naturally, and the scene including audience participation was smart and added to the comedy. I also found the choreography, by Cummins and Briana Shipley, to appear quite professional and complimented the musical numbers well.
The Andrews Brothers impressed me in almost every aspect. The Covey Center has a solid production of a fun and frivolous comedy perfect for the whole family. Musicals like these that are meant for pure enjoyment and forgetting your cares can sometimes be the perfect time out from our stressful and busy lives. The Andrews Brothers is well worth the ticket price and the time, so take the couple hours to sit back, relax, and laugh at the timeless humor.