Monday, October 30, 2017

All Hands On Deck!—Portland Musical Theater Company—East Portland

Sounds From Yesteryear

This Oregon Premiere of this award-winning, musical revue has book, music and lyrics by Jody Madaras and was conceived by Madaras and Quincy Marr.  It is directed by Deanna Maio (Founder & Artistic Director of the company), with choreography by Kayla Banks.  It is playing at the Mister Theater, 1847 E. Burnside St. (# 101), through November 12th (free parking in their lot).  For more information, go to their site at

It would be the war to end all wars, or so they thought, not 
anticipating the Korean conflict, Viet-Nam, the Middle East and now, who knows?!  But things seemed to be more in sync then.  Most of America was behind the troops and a united front was presented.  Almost nobody seemed to doubt that Hitler and his Nazis were evil, as well as mad, and almost everybody condemned the unwarranted, cowardly attack on Pearl Harbor.  But probably the most vocal boosters of the war effort were the Hollywood stars with their traveling USO shows and radio as their rallying platform.

This production is presented much the same way of those old tours and radio spots.  The smooth-talking, Ted Crosley (Rich Cohn-Lee) is the host and emcee of these events but, as he puts it, when they came to a cross-road in decision-making, they debate and discuss, and then do it the way the ladies wanted!  And the ladies consist of such stars as the vivacious, sultry-voiced, Betty Blake (Deanna Maio); the perky, Daisy Maxwell (Ashley Moore); and the young crooner, John Hanley (Aidan Nolan).  These icons of 1942 will breeze though over 40 songs, complete with skits and vintage commercials, in less than 2 hours!

And, yes, the songs are authentic, some of them I was not even familiar with.  Although a wee bit before my time, I do remember my Dad, who was in the Army Air Corps (now Air Force), commented on how important those USO shows were for the troops overseas.  There were W.C with Bergen and his dummies; pin-up gal, Betty Grable; busty, lusty, Russell; sweater girl, Turner; the antics of Hope & Crosby; Garland, Kelly and Sinatra;  Martha Raye and Betty Hutton; aquatic Esther; the fleet feet of Astaire; tapping Miller; hoofer Cagney and many others through film, radio and tours that gave so much for so many!

In this production, all the standards are there including “By the Light of the Silvery Moon,” Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Moonlight Bay,” “Don’t Fence Me In,” “Sentimental Journey,” “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,”“Thanks for the Memories,” (Hope’s anthem) the touching, “America the Beautiful…” and so many more, all beautifully rendered by this amazing cast.  There are also those annoying but amusing commercials for Maxwell House Coffee and the Mercury cars, as well as skits and jokes.  And some terrific harmonizing on many of the songs.
My personal favorites were all of the moody songs of Maio, who has the perfect voice for jazz, sentiment and rousing numbers as well.
  I still contend she would be the perfect Dolly for that musical (if anybody is listening).  She founded this company, has directed the shows and also has been in the cast of them all.  She is the diamond which sparkles the brightest in all she does, as well as here, and will continue to do so.  She’s a pro and it shows!
Moore also has a voice that renders well both in harmony and in slower or upbeat numbers.

A “Jill” of all trades.  Cohn-Lee is perfect as the head of this troupe.  I especially liked his rendition of Berlin’s song, “I Hate to get up in the Morning” (as Berlin himself sung it in one of the movie musical revues of the time because he felt no one could get it right).  Well, Cohn-Lee, does a damn fine of capturing that same feeling.  And Nolan also gives us the young lover-type, possibly ala Nelson Eddy.  The dancing sequence of “I’m Gonna sit right down and write myself a Letter,” (nicely choreographed by Banks), with Nolan and Moore, was one of the highlights of the shows.

Another highlight was the “Der Fuerher’s Face,” which was, of course, a send-up of Mr. Evil himself.
  Other films of this era mocked this dictator, too, such as Jack Benny in “To Be Or Not To Be,” (later Mel Brooks would also do this film), or Charlie Chaplin’s excellent dark comedy, “The Great Dictator,” or Luther Adler in the lesser known but still good, “The Magic Face.”  And, of course, who can forget, “Springtime For Hitler,” from Brooks,’ “The Producers,” very reminiscent of this number.  Brooks always said the best way to combat evil was to laugh at it.  I believe he’s right.
The most poignant moment of the evening was not on stage but when the cast did a medley of military themes and asked for servicemen to rise, one gentleman, probably in his 90’s, struggled to stand and had tears in his eyes (as did the cast and some of the audience, as well as this old softie).
  This is one giant way to honor those who have served, and are serving, our country overseas.  This show might speak from the voice of WWII but its echo still reverberates today.  So, if a veteran, see it and you will be drawn into its magic.  “Lest we forget…!”
And a final word from the Director, Maio:
  “I am disappointed in today and hope for a better tomorrow….I hope you leave the theater smiling, grateful for the sacrifices our ancestors made and for what we have today…Once we were bonded together and united.  If we did it once, we can do it again.”  Amen!
I highly recommend this show.
  If you do choose to see it, please tell then Dennis sent you.

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