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REVIEW: Jiving Sisters of Swing (History Theatre)

Cat Brindisi, Katie Hahn, and Jen Burleigh-Bentz in the History Theatre’s production of Sisters of Swing.

The Andrew Sisters were the sweethearts of the World War II generation. When my mother was in nursing school during the war, the students in the girls’ dorm would congregate around the dorm piano and sing Andrew Sisters’ songs. When my mother was in her waning years and fighting Alzheimer’s, she was always delighted and able to stay focus when I took her to see Sisters of Swing at the History Theatre. The History Theatre commissioned Beth Gilleland and Bob Beverage to write this musical about the Andrews sisters and it premiered in 2002. I reviewed the 2009 revival of the show at History Theatre and, in this latest revival, Director Ron Peluso has taken the popular show on the road – including a two-night stand at the Dakota Jazz Club.

For those unfamiliar with the group, the Andrew Sisters were from Minnesota. Their national career started when they won a talent contest at Minneapolis’s Orpheum Theatre in the 1930s. They went on to New York City where they started their recording career and had a consistent string of hit songs through World War II. They extensively toured with the USO throughout the war performing before military troops in Africa, Italy and the United States. Their father controlled both their career and their lives until his death in the early 1950s; only after his death did the sisters marry. Their music became known to my generation when pop artists started covering their songs. When Bette Milder covered their World War II hit “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” the success of that record launched Milder’s career as a major artist.

The road show is the same show that has been performed at the History Theatre several times since 2002. In this road tour, Cat Brindisi plays Patty, Jen Burleigh-Bentz plays LaVerne, and Katie Hahn plays Maxene. LaVerne was the oldest, Maxene the middle sister, and Patty was the youngest and the lead singer for the group. Although I have seen the show performed several times, these three actors still pulled me into the illusion with their convincing performances as the sisters. Their enthusiasm in their singing of the group’s countless hits showed why the trio was so popular over the years. The three actors do a delightfully campy performance with the song “Carmen Boogie” which is used to tell the tale of how Patty went over to Doris Day’s house and terrorized Day’s mother with a baseball bat (Patty’s then-husband, Marty Melcher, had run off with the actress).

Jake Endres is referred to as, simply, “The Man” in the program, and he ably plays various roles in the women’s story, including the Danny Kaye parts in several of their songs as well as the part of Lou, their manager, who ultimately married and divorced Maxene. Nic Delcambre plays their piano accompanist who at one time dated Patty. The sisters’ parents are often talked about but are never seen.

Most of the Dakota’s stage was taken up with band members whose brassy sound blended well with the sisters’ songs. But it left very limited room for the actors to perform Jan Puffer’s energetic choreography. From my view at the far back side table, I often found myself looking at the video screen to see the dance numbers because from my side view the three sisters blended into one person.

Most of the attending audience were persons who were even older than me, but it was obvious they enjoyed this evening of nostalgia. But for those who are unfamiliar with the Andrew Sisters’ music, the evening provides a new opportunity to experience this legendary and extremely talented trio.

Bev Wolfe
Bev Wolfe is a Staff Reviewer at the Twin Cities Arts Reader. She is an attorney and avid theatre fan who has written theatre reviews for local publications since 2008. She is also an Ivey Awards evaluator.
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