When decorating a Christmas tree, sometimes it’s best to leave a few ornaments in the box.
This is how I felt after attending the opening night of “Christmas of Swing” at the History Theater. Basically, it celebrates the bouncy jazz and signature harmonies of the Minneapolis-born trio, the Andrews Sisters. A sequel to the company’s popular “Sisters of Swing”, the recently revised magazine emphasizes the role of women in boosting the morale of soldiers serving in World War II.
But this musical is less about the relationship of the Andrews Sisters and their audience and more about the experiences of soldiers in combat, bombing missions, air raids, POW camps and behind enemy lines. One story follows one another with very little connection between them except the lingering hell of war and all the fear and trauma that comes with it.
So if you’re looking for a vacation pick-me-up, this probably isn’t the show for you. But there’s a lot to admire about his mission, in that he wants to move beyond vintage Hollywood depictions of the American experience of World War II and give the soldiers of color a voice, as well as a nod. eye to the women who served. You learn a bit more about what it was like to be on the black side of a separate army and air corps, to be a speaker of Ojibway code, and to enlist in an internment camp. Japanese-American and become a medic in bloody battles.
Meanwhile, 33 mostly holiday-flavored tunes are ripped or performed in their entirety – some with help from Bing Crosby – comedy tracks from Abbott and Costello make their way into the mix.
And did I mention that there is a conspiracy … sort of? It’s Christmas Eve 1944, and the sisters are in New York rehearsing a USO show that will be presented to soldiers stationed in the United States. They try to convince their manager to let them read letters from soldiers during the show, but he fears that is too depressing. And it’s easy to understand his point after listening to tales of bodies on fire and drunken paratroopers chanting a fatal training jump in great detail.
Even the best musical intentions are doomed to be overshadowed by such dark truths. Which is a shame, because the music is performed quite well. As the three sisters, Jen Burleigh-Bentz, Julia Ennen and Elena Glass capture the liveliness of the act, performing Jan Puffer’s period choreography admirably, especially during the medley of three boogie-woogie tunes that opens the second. act. And Ennen offers the best solo of the evening by closing the first act with “O, Holy Night”.
Besides a quartet of qualified instrumentalists led by David Lohman, the sisters’ main collaborator is Max Wojtanowicz as Bing Crosby. Although his voice is louder than Crosby’s, Wojtanowicz’s mellow delivery, jazzy embellishments, and laid back demeanor are perfect. Ryan London Levin and Adan Varela also shine in bittersweet ballads.
While playwright Bob Beverage did a great job squeezing out plenty of letters to create the screenplay, the musical may have been served well by focusing on fewer stories and characters. Many letter-writing monologues give an evocative glimpse into military life, but they are quickly over, making “Christmas of Swing” feel like a collage that left me wondering if we were getting too much or not enough.
When: until December 19 (broadcast available from December 6 to 19)
Where: History Theater, 30 E. 10th St., St. Paul
Tickets: $ 65- $ 15, available at 651-292-4323 or historytheatre.com
Capsule: Although admirable for its music and its various versions of the WWII experience, it is a show full of light on the joy of the holidays.