By Tulis McCall
Blueprints Specials – Soldier Musicals has closed and that is a damn shame.
There are times when theatre comes along in her far flung finery and whisks you off on a journey before you have time to check your dance card. Such was the case when I sat in the audience for this production the other night. In case you missed the excellent feature on WNYC, here’s the lowdown, the skinny, the poop – pal.
The Blueprint Specials were a series of original musicals commissioned by the Special Services Devision of the War Department (who knew?). They were sold as a “novel and very practical service for soldiers who wish to put on good GI shows for GI audiences.” Good being the operative word here. This show is clean as a whistle, with plenty of good innuendo tossed in for laughs.
Once the Blueprints were written and tried out they were shipped out – script, score and orchestration, scenic and costume drawings and the instructions for how to assemble the whole shebang into a production that might be performed in a hall, a makeshift theatre, on a flatbed truck or – as it was the other night – on a ship.
This production combined 4 of the shows that still exist ( I don’t know how many there were) and focus on the trials of P.F.C. Mary Brown who is service along side Sad Sack, a bumbling recruit to whom misfortune sticks like fly paper. Mary is really the goddess Athena (Pallas) who rules over the arts and war. Marital difficulties between her and hubby Jupiter have compelled her to leave the heavens and find something meaningful to do. She joins the WACs – Women’s Army Corp – which was formed in 1944. We follow the two of them as they stumble through boot camp, or something much like it. The women are presented as being there for adventure and men, but that is drummed out of them by their drill instructor. And the guys are pretty much tong-in-cheek throughout.
The music for the most part is by Frank Loesser (that would be 9 of the 24 numbers that whizz by). The actual dialogue isn’t much to speak of, but the music shines. And it does so through the graces of a 14 piece big band. conducted with gusto by Sonny Paladino, that swings mightily.
Anyway, the deal with this piece is that it is a slice of what my father might have seen in Panama. And for that alone the time travel value was off the charts. In addition it was being performed on the Intrepid, which saw action in WWII. Back in the 1950’s we didn’t talk about the war much. AS in not at all, except for the music. But what my father did and how he did it was related mainly through my mother. I never heard any of the men talk about it. It wasn’t something people did back then. The focus was on getting back to work, moving the women out of the factories they had been running and sending them back home where they belonged, and starting to repopulate the planet. That was the new job for the service men, and talk of the war was not encouraged. Forget the past and look to the future and everything that money would buy you.
So, yeah, that old time travel thing caught me off guard. The performances were quite fine. Laura Osnes (Cinderella) shone and it was generous of Will Swenson to bring his excellent voice to a pivotal but not sizable role. As Sad Sack Quinn Mattfield was at his best when he let the double entendres rip. 30% of the cast were service members, which we are told in the beginning. They did their job so well, however, that it was only at the curtain call when they took their bows in their respective uniforms that their identity is revealed. And once again we were swept into the reality that these service personnel are not some fragment of a past. They are serving as we speak, and having spent 90 minutes in their company, a person cannot help but feel a tenderness for them.
It was a glorious evening all around. Not everything was ship shape – performances were uneven, the book was a tad too long, and occasionally it had the feeling of a show that Mickey and Judy might have put on. But pound for pound in commitment and enthusiasm, I would put Blueprint Specials up against any production anywhere.
BLUR PRINT SPECIALS – Soldier Musicals – Book and Lyrics by Frank Loesser, Book by Arnold M. Auerbach, Choreography by Jose Limon, Directed by Tom Ridgley. Part of the Public Theater’s Under The Radar Festival. Presented by Waterwell.