Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Remembering the 1940s

This weekend, Herb and I will be performing in the Reagle Music Theatre’s production of “Remembering the 1940s”. We did the show together two years ago, and as we rehearse, not only do the lyrics come back to my mind and the dances come back to my feet, the emotions also come back to my heart. I had intended on writing a new blog entry today reflecting on the show, but I don’t think I can put it any better than I did following the production two years ago. So today’s entry is a reprint of the entry I wrote back then. And if reading it makes you interested in experiencing the show yourself, please visit Reagle’s website at www.reagleplayers.org for tickets to any of this weekend’s performances, at 2pm and 7pm on Saturday, September 25th and at 2pm on Sunday, September 26th.


War and Remembrance (originally posted on September 28, 2008)

This weekend I performed in the Reagle Players' production of "Remembering the 40s". The show is a revue of 1940s era music, mixed with scenes and skits from that time period. The first act opens with a fun dance number with youngsters dancing and romancing, without a care in the world, and then we see a projection of a newspaper headline announcing of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and a voiceover of President Roosevelt solemnly intoning, "December 7th, 1941, a date which will live in infamy." Suddenly the carefree young men are being drafted into the Army and sent overseas while the young women are on the homefront, raising money for the war effort and waiting for their men to come home. We see the troops bidding farewell to their loved ones, being entertained by the USO, and huddling miserably in camp, waiting patiently and hopefully for letters from home. We see the women working in the factories, patiently carrying on life at home. The act ends with their joyful reunion, and then Act 2 continues as a 1940s radio broadcast, complete with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Burns and Allen, Abbott and Costello, and cheesy radio commercials ("Try Rrrrrrrrrrrexall Bismarex!!"), as well as the "Cavalcade Singers" performing patriotic and traditional numbers from the time, from "Sentimental Journey" to "In the Mood" to "Cuanto la Gusta" to "The Stage Door Canteen".

When we started rehearsing the show, I thought of it as a delightful time capsule; patriotic Irving Berlin songs that made me want to sit up straight or march in place, charming jazzy songs like "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" that made me want to jump up and dance. I understood that these fun, upbeat songs were the generation's way of keeping their chins up, of cheering up a dismal nation, of boosting the morale of people who were tired of war and just wanted their loved ones to come home safely. But until I was singing those songs in an auditorium full of men and women who had lived it, who had sat at home and wondered if they would ever see their father/brother/husband/boyfriend again, who had lived in cold, dusty, insect-infested war camps, who had taken refuge in foxholes and trenches amid enemy fire, I don't think I got the full impact of the show. I was re-enacting USO shows for men who'd seen the original. I was playing the part of a Rosie the riveter who was sitting in the audience right in front of me. These people were the very youngsters we'd seen spooning in the soda shop in the opening number - and the same youngsters whose lives had been shattered by Roosevelt's words. Suddenly the scenes we were portraying had a lot more significance.

As a performer, the best reward I can get is for members of the audience to tell me how much they enjoyed my performance, and I love being in the lobby as patrons are leaving, seeing their glowing faces and hearing their appreciative comments. But the comments after these performances were extra-special, as arthritic hands reached out to touch my arm and tiny women with white hair and sparkling eyes thanked me for reminding them of their youth, or stoop-shouldered men wearing hats or pins with military insignias wordlessly and solemnly nodded their thanks. I felt so inadequate as I thanked them for their service, for their sacrifice. All I did was get up on a stage and sing and dance. They are the heroes who gave their youth, their lives, for our country, so that my generation still has all the freedoms they prized so highly. I am honored and humbled to represent them in this show, and I hope that by being part of it, I am a little more aware of and grateful for the freedoms that I enjoy every day because of their bravery and sacrifice.

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