Town Players present the music of World War II with 'American Songbook'
Updated 10:27 am, Sunday, July 24, 2011
"American Songbook, the Music of World War II," opens July 29 at the Powerhouse Theatre in Waveny Park and continues through Aug. 13. Conceived and directed by Rich Mancini, the original musical revue, in many ways also a theatrical, à la military review of World War II songs, celebrates in song the music and popular culture of the American home front.
"Songbook's music selections are fun and straight-forward," he said. "The lyrics are meant to be heard, unlike some contemporary songs, and they reflect `traditional' values: romance, duty, camaraderie, and unapologetic love for country and the cause."
New Canaan parents and students who know Lauren Nicole Sherwood as the director of the seventh and eighth grade musical at Saxe, and also the costume designer for both the fifth/sixth and seventh/eighth grade musicals, will have the opportunity to see this talented actor/singer on stage since she will be portraying a member of the Greatest Generation in her prime. Sherwood also directed "The Wizard of Oz" at New Canaan high school two years ago.
A Stamford native, Rich Mancini has been a collector and student of the home front culture since his teens. He has been thinking about this show for 30 years, and also dreams of founding a home front museum somewhere in Fairfield County. He hopes that "American Songbook, The Music of World War II" captures the spirit of the times, saying that "the last time we declared war was Dec. 8, 1941, and there were more fatalities in the war plants than soldiers killed in action. Our country has not experienced such an all-encompassing effort since."
Mancini previously staged "Cactus Flower" for the Town Players of New Canaan, and has also directed at Westport Community Theatre, Polka Dot Playhouse, Playhouse on the Green, Curtain Call, Wilton Playshop, Eastbound Theatre, Darien Players and other area theatres. Recent credits include "Crossing Delancey," "Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure," "The Graduate," "Mere Mortals," "A Christmas Story," "Crimes of the Heart," "The Women," "Orson's Shadow," "Born Yesterday" and "Cry, Havoc!" along with a dozen original one-acts for festivals in the Northeast.
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Mancini commented on the show's 48 songs.
"The songs are a lot of fun to sing," he said. "Sometimes quaint and whimsical, several are topical -- so much of their time -- and hold up only in context." The musical outpouring of 65 composers and lyricists from Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Frank Loesser, Jerome Kern, Ira Gershwin to many lesser known songsmiths, the original musical revue showcases well-known standards from "The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B" to "Sentimental Journey," along with seldom-heard gems such as "Obey Your Air Raid Warden," "Little Bo Peep Has Lost Her Jeep" and "Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet."
Phil Moore composed the Act I show stopper "There'll Be A Jubilee," and was for many years the accompanist and arranger for Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne, as well as an arranger for the Tommy Dorsey and Harry James bands. Rosalind P. Walter, who "came from old money and worked on the night shift building the F4U Corsair fighter," was Redd Evans' and John Jacob Loeb's inspiration for their hit "Rosie the Riveter." Walter eventually became a WNET board member and a long-time supporter of the "Charlie Rose Show."
Performing under the musical direction of Stan Wietrzychowski, the cast will be backed up by a band comprised of piano, trumpet, keyboard, drums and sax. Tom Butterworth, of New Canaan, Terry LeBel, of Huntington and Marion Richard, of Trumbull, will appear as baby boomers. Bill Adams, of West Haven, Daniel Bayer, of Wilton, Lisa Dahlstrom, of Fairfield, Amanda Goodman and Lauren Nicole Sherwood, of Stamford, and David Sylvia, of Stratford, will portray greatest generation characters in their 20s, while Lester Colodny, of Fairfield, himself a member of the greatest generation, will make a cameo singing appearance.
"My grandfather fought in World War II. Most of this music is new to me," Dahlstrom said. "I find it inspiring to think of him listening to these songs 70 years ago. Being trained as a classical singer, I am more comfortable singing in this genre than I am singing more contemporary music. The music is very lyrical and does not require singers to belt or strain their voices."
For the fourth summer, the Town Players is supporting the New Canaan Food Pantry. The Town Players asks the audience to put non-perishables in the wicker basket by the box office window when they come to the theatre.
"American Songbook, The Music of World War II" will be performed at the air conditioned and handicapped accessible Powerhouse Theatre, Waveny Park, New Canaan from July 29 through Aug. 13. Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for students and seniors. To reserve seats, call 203-966-7371.