Musical swings with the Andrews Sisters

David Brooks Andrews

The three Andrews Sisters didn't always get along with one another or their parents, but they sure could find harmony in their voices.

With their lively, upbeat sound, they took America by storm in the 1930s and '40s, becoming the most profitable entertainers in the country, earning $20,000 a week.

"Sisters of Swing! The Story of the Andrews Sisters" colors the spectrum of their lives -- the ups, the downs and the beautiful harmonies.

This bio-play/musical revue by Beth Gilleland and Bob Beverage, with musical arrangements by Raymond Berg, is now playing at Foothills Theatre in Worcester, Mass.

Foothills has cast three lovely actors to play the sisters. Although the actors may not look much like the Andrews Sisters -- the actors are considerably more attractive -- they capture the sound of the sisters with their beautiful voices and impeccable harmonies. And their cute, snappy dance moves add a lot to the songs.

Sarah Corey as the youngest sister, Patty, can really belt out a song and exudes the irrepressible spirit of youth. Bridget Beirne in the role of Maxene, the middle sister, has a beautiful, haunting voice and a mind of her own. And Amy Barker nicely captures the mothering spirit of the oldest sister, LaVerne.

There's a terrific chemistry among them, and each one lights up the stage.

They are the best thing about the show, which is to say the material itself is a little weak, especially the sometimes corny stories that tie the 20 or more songs together. It's risky basing a play so directly on biography, because it can limit the scope of creative possibilities, as well as requiring the audience to hold an interest in these historical people.

For those who remember the Andrews Sisters and love them, it's not a problem. But for those who aren't already familiar with them, the show may be less appealing.

There are some high points to the material. The best piece of acting is delivered by Beirne as Maxene, as she tells the story of how their father pulled a gun on and threatened their business manager, Lou Levy, when he learned Lou and Maxene were romantically involved. Beirne nails each of the specific emotions.

The sisters sang for the troops and wounded soldiers during World War II, and when Corey as Patty says they saw boys with no arms or legs and half faces and were told they must not break down as they sang to them, it drives home just what that type of entertaining involved.

Another touching scene has the sisters standing up for the rights of black GI band members, insisting the men be ushered to the empty seats in the front row or the sisters would not perform. One would love to know just how historically accurate the scene is.

But there's lots of extremely corny material, often involving Steve Gagliastro in various male roles, sometimes in playful drag. The scene of him wearing inflatable bosoms to the "Beer Barrel Polka" is especially cheesy as is the scene in which he wears an all-fruit Carmen Miranda hat to the song "Rum and Coca Cola." Or when, as a GI, he refers to a fellow soldier as "Stinky."

You've got to give Gagliastro credit for his willingness to attempt anything, including impersonating Bing Crosby singing the cute number "Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive" with the sisters and later impersonating Danny Kaye in an overdone sketch based on "All I Want For Christmas" with LaVerne as Mrs. Claus and the other sisters as Santa's elves.

The corniness isn't as likely to bother those who are old enough to remember the Andrews Sisters, but it may date the show for the younger crowd.

One of the most beautiful numbers of the evening is "Bei Mir Bist Du Schon (To Me, You are Beautiful)," which was the Sisters' first major success. The show does a lovely job of contrasting the original Yiddish song with the sultry "Bei Mir" that it became. By the end of their careers, the sisters had recorded some 700 songs, sold more than 90 million records, earned nine gold records and appeared in 17 Hollywood films.

Director Sean McGuirk has done an excellent job eliciting the best from the three actors playing the sisters, as has choreographer Kevin Hill with their movements. One only wishes McGuirk had been able to make the show feel a little more sophisticated at times, although that would be a tough task.

The set is surprisingly plain, featuring stairs with lights on the edges, an upright piano, cane chairs and star-shaped lights on the frame around the opening of the stage. It feels almost like a rehearsal set. Presumably money is being saved for more lavish sets in the future.

The dresses that costume designer Kurt Hultgren gives the sisters in the opening act seem a little ordinary, but their military-inspired skirts, jackets and caps in the second act are snappier.

WHAT: "Sisters of Swing! The Story of the Andrews Sisters"

WHEN: Through Feb. 2

WHERE: Foothills Theatre, 100 Front St., Worcester

COST: $32-$38

INFO: 508-754-4018,