Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Sisters of Swing" brings the Andrews Sisters to life

(Originally posted at

The Andrews Sisters, circa 1941

When I was once a tiny dancer, I can remember my mother playing the Big Band sounds of the Andrews Sisters. “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy," “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree," and “Rum and Coca-Cola" - I learned tap dances to all the classics by the time I was old enough to take lessons. “Boogie-Woogie” was a particular favorite around the dance competition circuit, providing ample opportunity for army uniform-inspired, kitschy costumes.

It was the music of my mother’s youth, and the music of her father’s generation - the World War II era. I hadn’t known at the time, but the Andrews Sisters - Patty, Maxene and LaVerne - were Minnesota natives. That Midwestern work ethic (no doubt aided by their stoic Norwegian-Lutheran heritage) must have been at play when they first set off on the touring circuit when the youngest, Patty, was only 12 years old. By 1937, the group gained national attention with their Decca record hit, Bei Mir Bist Du Schön, and they became a household name by 1940, eventually singing to the troops during World War II.

Stacey Lindell, Ruthie Baker & Patty Nieman as the Andrews Sisters

This intimate production by the History Theatre serves as both a historical retelling and an entertaining, nostalgic romp. Starting off when the sisters are just children and ending with them at their dying days, the show documents their personal highs and lows as well as key moments in history - interspersed with plenty of song-and-dance numbers and comic moments, thanks to the scene-stealing Ari Hoptman. It’s all set against the backdrop of an oversized Art Nouveau-styled transistor radio and a five-piece Big Band that provides live musical accompaniment. Though no doubt the result of budget restraints, the choice to have the female leads (especially the fab Ruthie Baker as Patty) play themselves at every age and Hoptman acting as all of the male characters only adds to the simple warmth and charm of the show. All the better to tell the story, I say. And what a story it is.

Seeing the show inspired me to dig up more on the Andrews Sisters. Here’s them performing “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy” from the Abbott and Costello film, "Buck Privates” (1941):

Here’s the Andrews Sisters’ screen debut in Argentine Nights (1940) performing “Rhumboogie”:

Here’s “I’ll Be With You When It’s Apple Blossom Time” from Buck Privates:

And my favorite, “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” also from Buck Privates:

There are too many to post in entirety, but I have to include this classic clip of the Sisters with Bing Crosby doing “You Don’t Have to Know the Language” in From Road to Rio (1947):

“Sisters of Swing” continues through Dec. 20 at the History Theatre, 30 E. 10th St., St. Paul. 651-292-4323. $28-32. for showtimes.

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