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2017-11-08 / Featured / News

Wartime songs take the stage at Swift Creek Mill Theatre

BY RICH GRISET STAFF WRITER


Ian Page, Caleb Wade and PJ Llewellyn star in “The Andrews Brothers.” 
ASH DANIEL Ian Page, Caleb Wade and PJ Llewellyn star in “The Andrews Brothers.” ASH DANIEL Paying the check recently at a Mexican restaurant, PJ Llewellyn, Ian Page and Caleb Wade were asked a question by the cashier that amused them: Were they brothers?

Not one to miss the humor in the situation, Llewellyn explained that they were. Asked if they were blood relations, Llewellyn responded that one of them was adopted.

“[The cashier] pointed to Ian and said, ‘It must be him,’” Llewellyn recalls. In truth, the three actors are only related onstage, starring together in the titular roles of Swift Creek Mill Theatre’s new show “The Andrews Brothers,” opening on Veterans Day.

“In a short amount of time, we’ve formed this really close relationship,” says Llewellyn, who plays Max Andrews in the show. “Our natural chemistry, the way we naturally are together, we’re like brothers.” Taking place near the end of World War II on an island in the Pacific theater, the musical’s premise is that the world-famous Andrews Sisters have been stricken with chicken pox and are unable to perform a scheduled USO show. Convinced that the show must go on, three male stagehands – conveniently all brothers with the last name of Andrews – decide to take their place, dressing as the singers and performing their songs.

“It’s really just one big excuse to sing all these great Andrews Sisters songs,” says Tom Width, director of “The Andrews Brothers” and longtime artistic director at Swift Creek. “All the harmonies are the same, but they’re sung by these three guys instead.”

For the uninitiated, the Andrews Sisters were an extremely popular vocal group of the swing and boogie-woogie eras. Formed of real-life sisters LaVerne, Patty and Maxene, the group sold more than 75 million records over the course of the trio’s long career, and are considered one of the most influential groups of all time.

Accompanied by an eight-piece band, the show’s actors will perform Andrews Sisters’ hits like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön” and “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else but Me).” Replicating the Andrews Sisters’ close harmonies is no easy task, especially with songs like “Six Jerks in a Jeep.”

“That has our harmonies really tight to sound like a car horn,” says Page, who plays Lawrence Andrews. “That one’s kind of banging your head into the wall, trying to focus on the harmonies.”

In addition to rehearsals, the trio has met on their own to practice their parts to perfection.

“It was an incredible amount of work,” Llewellyn says. “People can hear when it’s not perfect, and we want the music to be the strongest aspect of the show.”

Rounding out the cast is Georgia Rogers Farmer as Peggy Jones, a cross between actress Betty Hutton and pin-up girl Betty Grable.

“She was singing at the Hollywood Canteen,” explains Farmer of her character, referencing the famous Los Angeles club created by Bette Davis and John Garfield for soldiers during the war, “and one of the [Andrews] Sisters saw her and signed her.”

A locally well-known cabaret performer and musical actress, Farmer admires her fellow actors’ “amazing, luscious harmony.”

“They sound so good,” she says. “I can’t say enough about how hard they’ve worked on this difficult music.”

For Width, the show is a trip down memory lane; he first fell in love with the Andrews Sisters as a child, watching them appear in Abbott and Costello movies.

“It’s just a great reminder of how terrific this music was and is,” he says. ¦

“The Andrews Brothers” plays Nov. 11-Dec. 31 at Swift Creek Mill Theatre, 17401 Jefferson Davis Hwy, 23834. For more information, visit swiftcreekmill.com or call 748-5203.

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