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Musical wayback machine

Ocean State's 'All Night Strut!'
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  March 12, 2014

0314_Theater_Sttttttrut_top.jpg 
YESTERDAY ONCE MORE Hill, May, Smith, and Rodi. [Photo by Mark Turek]

 

The All Night Strut! is a jukebox revue aiming to get your toes tapping, even if you don’t spring into the aisle to jitterbug. Ocean State Theatre Company is presenting it (through March 16) in a finger-snapping production that surveys the best popular songs of the ’30s and ’40s (mostly), when lyrics were (mostly) intelligent and the music carrying them had to compete with the Jazz Age of the ’20s.

Musical arrangements are by Tom Fitt, Gil Lieb, and Dick Schermesser, with additional orchestrations by Corey Allen. Directed and choreographed here by Brian Swasey, it was originally done Off-Broadway in 1979 by Fran Charnas, who conceived the show. She is a professor at the Boston Conservatory, but her revue is hardly an academic exercise.

The music of the period had to pull listeners out of the depression of the Depression, then boost the spirit of a nation plunged into war. Song writers such as Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael, Frank Loesser, and Johnny Mercer certainly proved up to the task.

Four singers strut onto the stage at the start, the men in pinstripes and fedoras, the women in floral and polka dot dresses. There’s Christiana Rodi with her voluptuous sways and undulating arms, and Robby May with his imposing voice and presence, both the stronger performers, with Equity credits. Courtney Nolan Smith provides her soaring high notes, and DaWoyne A. Hill adds humor with his funky physicalizing.

They launch into a speedy “Chattanooga Choo Choo” to get things rolling, then slow down a bit with Cab Calloway’s funny and gritty story-song “Minnie the Moocher,” and the parameters of the show are set.

There’s a history lesson here if you listen (and check the program for dates of the songs). We get the 1932 “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” and, after “In the Mood” for an interlude, 1939’s happy “Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer,” an obscure find that sounds like the slogan for pulling out of the Depression. The entertaining “Java Jive” would have been perkier with a touch more caffeination, but by and large the deliveries are smart.

The second half of Act I is billed as a World War II medley, and that theme is well-focused. The eight songs include the well-known (“White Cliffs of Dover,” “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition”), and the obscure (“GI Jive,” “You’re a Lucky Fellow Mr. Smith”), and ease us into the intermission with the soothing “I’ll Be Seeing You.”

The second act is a jaunty excursion, drawing mainly from the ’40s but dipping into the prior and subsequent decades. By their titles you can tell that such songs as “Billie’s Bounce,” “Hit That Jive, Jack,” and the Andrews Sisters’ boogie-woogie anthem “Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar” are upbeat, in both senses. The most recent song in the show is the 1959 quasi-gospel, boppy “Operator,” made popular by the Manhattan Transfer (“Operator, information, give me Jesus on the line”). And, of course, Casablanca made it a requirement that any such period compilation include the wistful “As Time Goes By.”

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