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'Canteen' entertains, but moves too fast

Published April 22, 2007


Show Palace Dinner Theatre regulars who have just seen the big, glitzy blockbuster shows Mame, Victor/Victoria and Singin' the Rain may feel the show that opened Friday, Swingtime Canteen, seems a little tame. (Or is that lame?).

Canteen has one set, one set of costumes, one not-so-big production number, the flag-waving "Thank Your Lucky Stars and Stripes" (some respectfully-presented authentic 1940s flags with 48 stars would be nice), and some anecdotal stories the characters tell about loved ones in the armed services to give it some heart.

But size and story aren't the problem. The show about a group of female musicians doing canteen shows during World War II for soldiers serving in Europe has been done in theaters around the country since its creation in 1993, and it is brimming with possibilities.

The letdown is that those possibilities aren't fully realized in the Show Palace version, mainly because there's not much "swing" going on in the canteen.

Instead of that easy-going rhythm so loved by the WWII generation, this production keeps a high-energy jitterbug pace, even when the four cute jitterbuggers (Andrea Eskin, Troy LaFon, Ben Simpson, Lacey Vazquez) leave the stage.

The show does have all those wonderful WWII-era songs, but they fly by so fast, especially in the first act, that you hardly know it.

The Andrews Sisters medley is done at breakneck speed, with none of the trio's trademark shoulder swinging and distinct close harmony that really give the feel of an era that many in the opening night audience were anticipating.

The talent is there, as shown when Susan Haldeman, playing movie star Marian Ames, sings the tender A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square and when Amanda Carlisle, as Marian's niece Katie, does I Don't Want to Walk Without You.

And Trudi Posey is outstanding as the wisecracking, drum-thumping Jo Sterling, a role she's done in other theaters three times before now.

LoriAnn Freda does a good job as the gold-digging babe, Lilly McBain, on the prowl for a sugar-daddy. The onstage band (Jennifer Medina, Linnea Huston, Laura Benson, Freda and Posey) do a nice job on strings, reeds and horns, with a really great piano played from backstage by music director Gary Wyatt and smartly faked onstage by Rachel Brinker, playing the gum-smacking Topeka Abotelli.

Still, to paraphrase James Carville, "It's the pace, stupid." S.L.O.W. it down, give it some real swing, and, though it probably will never enter the Show Palace's Hall of Fame, it will provide a nice little evening's entertainment.

(Hint: A few nights watching Turner Movie Classics or listening to some 78 rpm's on the old Victrola might do it.)

If you go

Swingtime Canteen

Plays at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre, 16128 U.S. 19, Hudson, through May 27. Shows are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays (doors open two hours earlier for cash bar and included buffet) and at 1:15 some Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays (doors open at 11:30 a.m.). Dinner and show, $42.50; show only $31.45, plus tax and tip. Call (727) 863-7949 in west Pasco; toll-free elsewhere at 1-888-655-7469.

[Last modified April 21, 2007, 19:19:33]

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