ANY BONDS TODAY?
at the Arts Center
The Persian Gulf war didn't last long enough to require the federal government to launch a bond drive. Given the lack of unity on the home front last February, such a plan might have proved futile anyway. But as the legend goes, World War II was the "good" war, the unanimous war. Even the notorious gangster Bugsy Siegel volunteered to use his resources to "liquidate" Goebbels and Goring; his patriotic offer was declined. (But the incident won a reference in last summer's film The Rocketeer, when a crime-syndicate kingpin renounces his affiliation with a newly discovered Nazi spy by declaring "I may not be the most honest guy, but I'm still an American.")
Whatever one's opinions of either war, in those grim times a USO bond rally provided the perfect excuse for young people to get together, dance, and flirt, all in the name of a worthy cause. The musical revue Any Bonds Today? re-creates one such event, from the Andrews Sisters-style invitation to "buy a share of freedom" to the rousing George M. Cohan affirmation of loyalty to the Stars and Stripes (a large example of which hangs prominently on the Arts Center set--with 48 stars, of course).
This show, first produced in 1989, has been streamlined to a swift, tight 90-some minutes (its earlier incarnation sometimes seemed to drag itself out as long as the war). At the center of the action, if only by virtue of its size and volume, is the band. Though the brass section is the most showy, gleaming instruments arcing skyward like searchlights picking out aircraft, piano man Rick Frendt gets his moment to shine on the snappy "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," as do bass player Matt Erion on "Take the "A' Train" and drummer Dean Walker on the jungle-rhythmed "Sing Sing Sing." Music director Tom Stachniak, who doubles on saxophone, also takes the stage as a vocalist on the sentimental "At Last (My Love Has Come Along)."
Producer and director Michael A. Termine also choreographed the show, and Any Bonds Today? features many well-arranged and energetic dance numbers. Hoofers truck, pigeon-peck, and dig to China in the quick-tempoed "Two O'Clock Jump" and jitterbug jubilantly to "In the Mood." Termine himself solos on "Stompin' at the Savoy" with some Astaire-perfect tapping; he also has a duet in "Stompin"' with Concetta Petramala, whose sparkle is sufficient to eclipse the sequin-encrusted zoot suits worn in the "Flat Foot Floogie" number.
This is not to take anything away from the singers, though the acoustics of the Arts Center, once a Christian Science temple, restrict them almost exclusively to their strongest registers despite amplification. (My companion, a former minister's wife, wondered how the congregation had ever managed to hear the sermon.) The pseudo-Andrews Sisters trio harmonizes on the obligatory "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," and a trio of uniformed men, led by David Krajecki, does the same on "G.I. Jive." A twinkly-eyed, sunnily smiling Patty Kirin mischievously mugs her way through a girl's lament at the shortage of eligible men, "They're Either Too Young or Too Old" (first sung by no less than Bette Davis in the 1943 film Thank Your Lucky Stars). In the smoky "Stormy Weather," and later in the downbeat "Hit Me With a Hot Note," Norine Ashley's throaty voice glides seamlessly through glissandi and crescendos to drop suddenly to the most delicate of crooning whispers. Even Jim Hayes, the emcee, gets into the act with the lead vocal on "Chattanooga Choo Choo"--in between cracking jokes probably dating back to Caesar's army. ("I never give a woman a second thought," he insists. "My first thought usually covers it all.") The laughs do not go only to the men, however. "You look like my third husband," the formidable Miriam Petzke tells him, to which he responds: "How many times have you been married?" "Twice," she answers. In the otherwise forgettable "Green Eyes," Mercita Demunyck does a head-on imitation of Jo Stafford.
A program note dedicates Any Bonds Today? "to all the men and women who have served in the Armed Forces"--and at one point anyone who has served is invited to dance onstage. But after a few initial remarks about "our hope that the war will end soon and our boys can come home," most overt references to the period are dropped. (Well, "USO" girls and boys do serve coffee and doughnuts in the lobby.) Post-Vietnam cynics who feel uneasy singing the stirring "God Bless America" at the end might want to see and compare the version playing over the photomontage that opens Remains Theatre's The Chicago Conspiracy Trial. The real purpose of this nostalgic reflection of what we would like to believe was a simpler and more innocent era is for everyone to have a good time under the guise of supporting God and Country. Just like the original USO rallies. To that end, the cast of Any Bonds Today? do their duty with such conviction and enthusiasm you'd almost think there was a war on.