LaVerne, Maxene and Patty were, to their generation, like John, Paul, George and Ringo.
It’s hard to overstate the impact of the Andrews Sisters on American culture in the 1930s and 1940s. Even today, they remain “the biggest girl group ever,” with more than 60 million records sold, according to the Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music.
The Interplayers Professional Theatre’s production of “Sisters of Swing: The Story of the Andrews Sisters” tells their story, beginning with their Minnesota roots and through their stormy dissolution. Interplayers artistic director Reed McColm calls it a “musical biography,” told through dialogue and through a lengthy list of Andrews Sisters hits.
And what hits. They include “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” “Rum and Coca-Cola,” “Three Little Fishies,” “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” and “Bei Mir Bist du Schön.”
They’ll be sung by the Interplayers’ own versions of LaVerne, Maxene and Patty: Jennifer Jacobs, Renei Yarrow and Abbey Crawford.
Crawford, Spokane’s best-known cabaret singer, does double duty in this show. She’s also the director.
“Abbey is a force to be reckoned with; a walking tsunami,” said McColm. “She knows the Andrews Sisters inside and out.”
They’ll be accompanied by a three-piece onstage combo led by pianist Jim Ryan, who will portray Vic Schoen, the sisters’ longtime accompanist. Patrick Treadway will play 30 different roles, including Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Carmen Miranda (!), a train conductor and all of the Andrews Sisters’ husbands.
The show was written by Beth Gilleland and Bob Beverage and debuted in St. Paul in 2002. It portrays the sisters’ determined climb to stardom.
“They were tenacious about it,” McColm said.
They were huge stars by 1937. But it was the World War II years that cemented their place in the hearts of Americans at home and abroad.
“They did not create the USO, but they did re-energize it,” said McColm.
They toured constantly and entertained troops in America, Africa and Europe. Today, their tunes evoke instant nostalgia.
The Andrews Sisters’ music continues to be popular – as evidenced by the strong sales for this Interplayers show. McColm said tickets are selling so well the theater is looking at a possible extension beyond the Dec. 17 closing date.
A strong-selling show is exactly what the financially beleaguered Interplayers needs right now. Interplayers, a Spokane theater institution since 1980, has been struggling for years with financial difficulties, which have recently become even more pressing.
Meanwhile, theatergoers who want more insight into the Andrews Sisters can attend one of three talk-back sessions with Crawford and the other actors, after the performances on Dec. 1, 7 and 15.
In keeping with the World War II theme, the Dec. 7 performance will be dedicated to the Honor Flight program, a nonprofit organization that sends veterans to Washington, D.C., to tour the war memorials. Donations will be accepted during the performance.