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updated: 6/19/2014 3:25 PM

Gorgeous vocals sell Fox Valley Rep's 'Sisters of Swing'

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  • Katie Cundiff, left, Brittany Stock and Carol Rose play The Andrews Sister, the best-selling sibling trio from the 1930s and 1940s, in Fox Valley Repertory's revival of the bio-musical "Sisters of Swing."

      Katie Cundiff, left, Brittany Stock and Carol Rose play The Andrews Sister, the best-selling sibling trio from the 1930s and 1940s, in Fox Valley Repertory's revival of the bio-musical "Sisters of Swing."
    courtesy of Trademan Photography

  • Patty (Brittany Stock), left, Laverne (Carol Rose) and Maxene Andrews (Kellie Cundiff) record with Bing Crosby (David Hathway) in the Andrews Sisters musical "Sisters of Swing," running through July 27 at Fox Valley Repertory in St. Charles.

      Patty (Brittany Stock), left, Laverne (Carol Rose) and Maxene Andrews (Kellie Cundiff) record with Bing Crosby (David Hathway) in the Andrews Sisters musical "Sisters of Swing," running through July 27 at Fox Valley Repertory in St. Charles.
    courtesy of Trademan Photography

  • LaVerne (Carol Rose), left, Patty (Brittany Stock) and Maxene (Kellie Cundiff) confer with their manager Lou (David Hathway), middle, and their arranger, played by music director Jeffrey Poindexter, in Fox Valley Repertory's entertaining revival of "Sisters of Swing," an Andrews Sisters bio-musical.

      LaVerne (Carol Rose), left, Patty (Brittany Stock) and Maxene (Kellie Cundiff) confer with their manager Lou (David Hathway), middle, and their arranger, played by music director Jeffrey Poindexter, in Fox Valley Repertory's entertaining revival of "Sisters of Swing," an Andrews Sisters bio-musical.
    courtesy of Trademan Photography

  • Video: "Sisters of Swing" clip 1

  • Video: "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy"

  • Video: John Gawlik on "Sisters"

 
 

The brief a cappella snippet that opens "Sisters of Swing" makes clear where the strength of Fox Valley Repertory's Andrews Sisters bio-musical resides: with the pristine vocals of leading ladies Carol Rose, Kellie Cundiff and Brittany Stock.

Their sweet voices and endearing presence recall titular siblings LaVerne, Maxene and Patty Andrews, the best-selling trio from the 1930s and 1940s known for their close harmonies and ebullient style. The trio inspired this by-the-numbers homage by Beth Gilleland and Bob Beverage, who fail to address in a meaningful way the disputes and rivalries that tore the sisters apart professionally and personally. References to the sisters' parents (who the show suggests controlled their daughters' lives and lived off their earnings) and the financial squabbles -- as well as the issues that dogged their later years -- are cursory at best.

I would have welcomed more depth, which the show hints at, and which director John Gawlik teases out during a brief but telling scene where the sisters -- who by then are earning tens of thousands of dollars a week -- scrounge through their purses for change to pay for their 75-cent spaghetti dinners.

I also found distracting the audience interaction bits involving the agreeable David Hathway (whose multiple roles include manager Lou as well as crooner Bing Crosby and actor/comedian Danny Kaye). Judging from the audience response, however, I was in the minority.

That said, Gawlik's production is entertaining. And there's no denying the audience appeal of this tribute to the women whose greatest hits -- "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," "Bei Mir Bist Du Schon," "Hold Tight" and others -- served as the soundtrack for the Greatest Generation.

Gawlik stages the show as a memory play, setting the action in an attic, where battered trunks and an American flag reflect the sisters' devotion to American GIs, and a vintage projection screen shows footage from their heyday.

Patty (Stock) -- the last surviving sister -- enters, pulling sheets off the furniture and transporting us to 1925 Minneapolis, where 14-year-old LaVerne (Rose) puts younger sisters Maxene (Cundiff) and Patty through their vocal paces as they prepare for the talent contest that launched their careers.

While touching upon their early days on the vaudeville circuit, their Decca Records recording sessions and radio broadcasts with Glen Miller's orchestra, the show centers on the trio's heydays during the 1930s and 1940s.

Much of the show's appeal has to do with the talented cast. FVR veteran Rose and newcomers Cundiff and Stock sound gorgeous. Their voices blend beautifully. And their tone, timbre and vibrato so complement each other, you'd think they'd been singing together all their lives.

They also have spunk. Stock displays a gangly, quirky charm as youngest sister Patty, who died in 2013 at 94. Rose's fiercely loyal LaVerne is the dedicated musician and taskmaster. That leaves Cundiff's clarion-voiced middle sister Maxene, the peacemaker. She falls in love with their Jewish manager Lou, who woos Maxene despite threats from her anti-semitic father.

Among the highlights is the delicate "I Can Dream, Can't I"? a lovely response to a lonely soldier's request, simply staged by Gawlik. Laughs come courtesy of an unexpected cameo in "Six Jerks in a Jeep" and the jolly "Beer Barrel Polka," featuring Hathway as a buxom bartender. The entire cast gets a workout on "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," which is accompanied by music director Jeffrey Poindexter's rollicking piano and Chelsea Wellmann's trumpet, and features just enough of Christie Kerr's lively choreography.

But for my money what makes this show sing are numbers like "I'll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time," featuring the three stars' exquisite, unadorned vocals, and the infectious "Bei Mir Bist Du Schon," which illustrates, better than any other number, how the swing sisters earned their moniker.

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