The most touching moment at opening night of the musical comedy The Andrews Brothers at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson happened before the curtain ever went up. Master of ceremonies Troy LaFon asked for the house lights to be turned up; he then asked all military veterans in the house to stand up.
As silence fell over the room, men in their 70s, 80s and 90s (I didn't spot anyone younger) rose to their feet — about one-third of all the men in the room and at least one woman — some with canes, others with help from nearby friends or spouses, most with no assistance. The applause for them was long and loud. These were people from the Greatest Generation, when every able-bodied man, and more than a few women, joined the fight to defend this country.
Make no mistake, The Andrews Brothers is for them, those veterans who recall USO shows with great fondness — but also for those of us who love the musical style of the 1940s and the close harmonies of the Andrews Sisters, too.
Set on an island somewhere in the Pacific in 1945, it's the tale of a USO show that could have gone wrong, except for the talents and boldness of three stagehands who were determined that the thousands of servicemen shipping out for battle the next day would get a show the night before they left.
It starts when singer Peggy Jones (played with spunk and pep by Andrea Wright) lands on the island, giddy that she's the opening act for the Andrews Sisters, her first big gig in showbiz. The three Andrews brothers tell her they're her backup singers, ready to rehearse. In truth, they're longtime stagehands for the Andrews Sisters, and they're working with the USO because they're all 4-F and want to do something, anything, for the war effort.
When they find out the Andrews Sisters won't make it in time for the show, the guys don wigs and dresses and pretend to be the famous female trio, giving the show two surefire audience pleasers, namely men dressed up as women and those great Andrews Sisters harmonies.
The show gets off to a languid start, then picks up when the fellows start tripping all over themselves at the sight of pretty Peggy, the humor reminiscent of a vintage Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis aw-shucks flick.
But the show doesn't take off until the music starts, with songs in the style of the Andrews Sisters, if not their actual numbers.
It's the second act that really gets going, when the genuine Andrews Sisters songs take center stage, and the fake Andrews Sisters in their tight black dresses and high heels start their pratfalls and vamping, while singing those Andrews Sisters close harmonies.
Marc Ciemiewicz plays nearsighted Lawrence Andrews pretty straight-on, but when he morphs into LaVerne Andrews, he's a laugh riot of physical humor — gawky, stumbling and falling, then mugging it up in the background when his brothers are front of stage being serious.
Matty Colonna plays Patrick, the young asthmatic heartthrob, with magnetic charm. But, as Patty Andrews in a tight skirt, he nosedives, rolls around, shows his underpants and loses his dignity right along with the others.
Christoff Marse plays elder brother Max as the man in charge, barking orders to his younger brothers and making demands. But once he dons that long black wig and slinky dress and becomes Maxine (and, yes, he does look like Lily Tomlin), he's all comedy, tumbling and stumbling across the stage.
Director/choreographer Jared E. Walker keeps the dance numbers fairly simple, but the characters are supposed to be singers, not necessarily dancers. It may behoove him to cut Wright's awkward cartwheel, which isn't intended to get the kind of laughs it got. Music director William Coleman's three-piece combo provides nice background for the singing, but needs work on timing and more precision on the piano and keyboard.
Todd Everest's set design looks good and works smoothly and fast, but some of the gimmicks seem, well, a little gimmicky.
Coming in at just under two hours, including a 20-minute intermission, The Andrews Brothers is a lighthearted, lightweight, but ultimately pleasant summer diversion.