ANY BONDS TODAY?
at the Village Theatre
Unlike World War I, World War II was not a matter of a few Americans meddling in someone else's fight. Germany had declared war on us, Japan had attacked us; the United States was fighting its own fight, on two fronts yet, and everyone was needed to end the war quickly. The Office of War Intelligence ground out masses of propaganda with this message, and with nary a word of dissent, citizens responded. This was the war in which women "put the baby under one arm and the toolbox under the other" and marched off to work in the munitions plants. Donald Duck and Porky Pig conducted air-raid drills, and Bob Hope began his 47-year-long morale-raising tour. During the Vietnam war, the propaganda machine was still using these same tactics, oblivious to their ineffectiveness because they'd worked so well in '42.
They don't work all that badly now, however, in the USO-1940s musical revue called Any Bonds Today? At the beginning of the first act, I could almost forgive the carelessly contemporary haircuts, clothes, and post-Streisand singing styles. I did forgive the occasional missed note, the sometimes lead-footed dancers, the often underamplified voices--in fact the general amateurishness of the production, intensified by the audience's unmistakable boosterism--because I was caught up by the idea that these brave, earnest, enthusiastic kids were doing their part to stomp Hitler and bring our boys home.
It came as a jolt, therefore, when a singer introduced Duke Ellington's "Cash for Your Trash" with an explanatory footnote that suddenly shifted the point of view to 1989--abruptly the 40s had been shoved back into the past. Even more confusing was the announcement later that this was a bond rally of sorts--Galerie Productions wants YOU to invest in their company, so that they can bring you more of these fine entertainments.
So is this show intended as a museum piece, a documentary, a fund-raiser, or just an affable trip down memory lane for the geriatric set? Smart audience members won't waste their time trying to decide. After all, Any Bonds Today? is no existential drama but two hours of straight music (30 minutes of which could be cut). World War II serves only as a unifying factor for the lineup.
This includes standards like "I'll Be Seeing You," "Sentimental Journey," and the obligatory George M. Cohan medley--complete with flag (48 stars, naturally) unfurling from the rafters. There are also more-obscure period pieces, like "Rosie the Riveter" and the delightful "They're Either Too Young or Too Old," which plays on "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree": "I can't sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me. . . . What's good is in the Army, what's left at home can't harm me." And of course there's the title tune, composed in 1941 by Irving Berlin on special request from the secretary of the treasury. There are instrumental numbers like "Pennsylvania 6-5000," dance numbers like "Flat Foot Floogie," and Andrews Sisters harmonies (featuring the three most unblended voices since the Chicago group Stardust).
The level of talent and professional expertise is uneven, and some numbers appear to have been rehearsed more extensively than others. Choreographers Michael Termine and Concetta Petramala could dance all night and hold an audience, and the band is quite ready to play the Green Mill, if it hasn't already. On the other hand, the a cappella quartet that does "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" hits some clinkers that could sink a battleship. The soloists who have the sense to sing directly into one of the two onstage microphones are audible most of the time. (I was sitting under the balcony--the acoustics might be better elsewhere in the auditorium.) Even though the band can be heard halfway to Maywood, the rest of the show seems lost in the Village Players' cavelike space.
Any Bonds Today? does offer jitterbug, tap dance, and trombone slides like semaphore signaling (except for Sousa, nothing shows brass off better than big bands). You get a slinky "Hit Me With a Hot Note," a silky smooth "Stormy Weather," a "White Cliffs of Dover" that'll bring tears to your eyes, and a "Rock-A-Bye Your Baby" that makes Ethel Merman sound like Tiffany. There are chorus numbers in which the cast files down the aisles, and you can sing along with "Beer Barrel Polka," and--if you're an armed-services veteran--you can dance onstage to "Moonlight Serenade." Anyway, it's summer, the theater's air-conditioned, and while the flag-waving may be corny, it's a hell of a lot more entertaining than the 40s show that George Bush is staging these days.